Category: Rafeal Soriano

Yankees lose 5-4 to the Orioles for the 2nd day in a row, head to the sunny skies of Anaheim

The Yankees lost for the second game in a row to the Baltimore Orioles by the score of 5-4 in extra innings, but the culprit this time was actually the bullpen.  After playing the Orioles at home for three games they had to travel to Baltimore, during a rare off day, for one game, to make up a game that was postponed due to Hurricane Irene.

Ivan Nova pitched well enough to get the victory, allowing three runs in 5.1 innings and it would have made sense for Girardi to have left him in to finish the sixth inning since he was only at 98 pitches.  This was Nova’s 13th start since June 3rd and he is remarkably not picked up a loss in any of them, while getting the victory 11 times.

However, he was on track to win the game since Alfredo Simon gave up four runs in the first three innings.  All the runs actually came off of singles.  In the top of the second, Eric Chavez singled to shortstop scoring Alex Rodriguez.  Later in the inning with the bases loaded and two outs, Derek Jeter singled to shallow center scoring Robinson Cano and Chavez.

In the top of the third Chavez would collect his second single of the afternoon and thus his second RBI as Mark Teixiera scored from second after a rare steal.  After the fourth inning the Yankees failed to have a runner reach scoring position off of five Orioles relievers.

They were shut off the bases by four of those relievers and three of them – Clay Rapada, Jeremy Accardo and Jo-Jo Reyes – have ERA’s over 5.18.  They will need to improve their hitting against relief pitching as they will be facing relieves who are much more dominating in the coming series against the Angels in Anaheim, as well as in the playoffs.

Baltimore was led by likely Hall of Famer, Vladimir Guerrero, who was 3-5, with a homer off of Nova.  The real hero for the Orioles during this game was the speedy Robert Andino out of the ninth spot in the Baltimore lineup.  He won the game for the O’s as he had an RBI single in the 8th off of Rafael Soriano for his second blown save, and a walk-off single in the 10th off of the newly re-acquired Scott Proctor.

They Yankees were lucky that the Blue Jays helped them out once again by beating the Red Sox to keep their division lead at 2.5 games.

The Angels have been surging of late, having won six of their last 10, and they also won seven of eight towards the end of August.  Anaheim is now only 2.5 games behind the Texas Rangers so it is possible that the Yankees will play them in the first round of the playoffs.

However, the Detroit Tigers (who lead the AL Central by 8.5 games), Rangers and Angels are all only separated by 2.5 games so we likely will not know the first round pairings until the last few days of the season.  If the Red Sox win the Wild Card as they in position to right now they will play the division winner with the second best record and the Yankees will play the other division winner.

As of now the most favorable matchup for the Yankees would be if the Angels do indeed overtake the Rangers in the AL West since they have the weakest offense and the Yankees hit pretty well against their starters, which even includes CY Young candidate Jared Weaver.

They don’t want the take the mindset of scoreboard watching to set up their first round matchup but facing the Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander (22 wins, 2.44 ERA, 232 strikeouts) twice in the first round would be very imposing.

The Yankees should have been able to win three or even four of the games during their makeshift series against the last place Orioles, but they played down to the competition in the last two games with errors, not hitting in the clutch and A.J. Burnett pitching on Wednesday.   They also had to deal with a lot of rain.

After playing in what seemed like monsoon conditions at times the Yankees are definitely happy to be playing cross country near Disney Land for three games against the Angels.  They will get to avoid the rain for at least three days, play under the sun, but will unfortunately have to face Weaver on Friday after not much rest.

The hefty Bartolo Colon (8-9, 3.72 ERA, 123 strikeouts) who has been consistently reliable and at times dominating, surpassing any expectations that Cashman would have had for him, will pitch against the team that he won the CY Young for in 2005.  That was also the last season that he was healthy for the whole campaign.

Colon should be a lock for the Comeback Player of the Year after the blast from the past season that he has put together, especially since he was out of baseball during 2010 due to right shoulder pain and damage to his rotator cuff.

Usually teams that are playing games on the other side of the country have a travel day but the Yankees off day was ruined because of the makeup game yesterday.

The Yankees lead the season series 4-2 after struggling against the Angels in years past.  The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, (who have gimmicks like the rally monkey that the Yankees would never use) have been the Yankees nemesis in the playoffs in previous seasons but it seems like they match up better this season.

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Jesus makes his Yankees debut, but the series win over Boston was highlighted by Burnett and Martin

There were many positives during this game, however, the one that stands out is that A.J. Burnett actually pitched the Yankees to victory, only allowing two runs.

I still think he should be taken out of the rotation, as he allowed 16 runs in two starts before this one, and his ERA is still 5.25, but now Girardi at least as a legitimate decision to make after Phil Hughes struggled so much in his last start.

Not many had confidence in Burnett coming into this game, but something was able to click in his brain allowing him to pitch like he was still a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.  What he was a starter for the Blue Jays he was consistently effective (2.56 ERA in eight starts) instead of consistently ineffective in eight starts before this one for the Yankees (8.71 ERA and zero wins).

Jon Lester had struggled in his three previous starts against the Yankees this season, but he will likely be somewhere in the top 10 in the CY Young with his 3.09 ERA, so it is not surprising that he only gave up one run in five innings.

Lester likely would have been able to pitch deeper into the contest if it was not for his very eventful top of the first.

David Ortiz hit a hard single to right, in the second inning, which gave him a 15 game hitting streak.

In the top of the third Andruw Jones missed a double by inches as his towering line drive just missed hitting the foul line on the Green Monster.  However, unfortunately he would go on to strike out looking on a 2-2 count.

Jones would go 0-1 with three walks but more importantly he has hit more like the hitter he was with the Braves for much of the second half of the season because of an advice from a somewhat unlikely source.  Jones would receive a call during the All-Star break from his mother who said that she didn’t like the way he was setting his legs in his batting stance.

Amazingly, during what was Burnett’s best start since June 29th, he only gave up Dustin Pedroia’s two run blast in the bottom of the fourth.  This would score MVP candidate Adrian Gonzalez, and would prove that Burnett is actually capable of adjusting to adversity.

With one out in the fifth inning Robinson Cano hit a long double into the triangle in center-field on Lester’s 100th pitch.  That double was Cano’s 39th of the season. Swisher bunted with one out which is very puzzling because he is one of the better RBI men on the team. They were down by a run and he could have driven in Cano with a single.

Jesus Montero would bat in top of the fifth with a chance to be the savior, but the nerves of playing in his first big league game and facing Lester got to him as he grounded out to shortstop.

Mark Teixiera got hit right on the knee to load the bases after Derek Jeter singled off of the Green Monster and Curtis Granderson walked.  At least that was not a fastball or he would have been badly hurt.  However, the Yankees failed again with men on base as Cano grounded out to third.

In the sixth inning, with david Ortiz batting, Burnett threw a pitch with a 3-2 count that appeared to be strike three on the outside corner but the umpire called it a ball.  Joe Girardi made the correct decision taking him out of the game at that point.  Burnett had allowed a single to Pedroia before that walk, and it was smart not to take any risks with AJ pitching.

To end the sixth inning Curtis Granderson made an outstanding diving catch to prevent two runs from scoring.  This also kept Burnett’s line at two runs, which is impressive.

One of the Yankees best prospects, Jesus Montero, who is known for his hitting, left a total of six runners on base in his first three at bats.  He would not do any damage in his fourth at bat but at least he was able to get himself to first via getting hit on his jersey.

With runners on first and second, Russell Martin decided to come through in the clutch, after so many had not earlier in the game.  Chris Dickerson, who had pinch run and Montero, scored giving the Yankees a 3-2 lead.  Eric Chavez would hit a single to send Martin home, while would set the Yankees up for victory as their dominating bullpen options were on deck.

In the bottom of the ninth, Mariano Rivera surprisingly walked two hitters and give up a single before Adrian Gonzalez came to the plate.  He just wanted to make the game bottom of the ninth interesting as   Gonzalez would be called out on a checked swing to give the Yankees the victory and with the win they are now tied in the loss column with Boston.

The Yankees stranded nine base runners in the first five innings which would be a theme that luckily did not cost them the win.  They would go on to leave 13 men on base and would leave runners in scoring position with two outs six times, with Montero being the culprit three times in his debut.  On the other hand, Boston would be equally hurt by leaving 10 runners on base.

Another major reason that the Yankees got the upper hand in this game was that their bullpen vastly outperformed the Red Sox’ relievers.

Former Yankee pitcher Alfred Aceves, who can do a little of everything (and who choose number 91 after Dennis Rodman) gave up Martin’s double and in the process surrendering his teams lead.  Daniel Bard would allow the Yankees to have a two-run cushion as the Yankees best three relievers were set to enter the game.  Eric Chavez would close out the scoring off of Daniel Bard, with an RBI single, and he has improved his average 21 points since August 28 (this drastic increase is partly because he is a part-time player).

However, for the Yankees, their relievers only gave up one hit in 3.2 innings.  Corey Wade (2.17), who would get the team out of the fifth inning and pick up the win, was signed on June 13th and has proven to be one of the better mid-season, under the radar, acquisitions by GM Brian Cashman.

The impressive back of the bullpen trio of Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera imposed their will like normal, but they just had to work around four walks between them.

Rivera got Gonzalez out on his patented cutter which has to be one of the best single pitches of all-time.  The best closer in baseball history will soon be official as he is now five saves away from 600 and seven away from Trevor Hoffman’s all-time saves record. He could accomplish this feat in late September.

They now begin six game home-stand against division foes Toronto and Baltimore (with one on the road because of Hurricane Irene) who are in fourth and fifth place, respectively.  Boston will now face Texas and Toronto in their next six games as the neck-and-neck division race is bound to continue until the last few days of September.

>Issues Entering a Seven Game Road Trip

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As the Yankees enter a seven-game road trip, against the Tigers and then the White Sox, they have proven that the two game skid from early last week has not affected them.  They have now won four of their last five games, against the Blue Jays and White Sox, and have proven to be a resilient team because they are winning without Phil Hughes or much contribution from Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Brett Gardner or Nick Swisher.

A positive sign is that the back end of the bullpen has bounced back after a few shaky performances by Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano.  Rivera was not like his normal dominant self, giving up blown saves on April 19th against the Blue Jays, as well as April 24th against the Orioles.  Luckily, the Yankees were able to come back in extra innings to win against Baltimore but the performance was still slightly alarming.  Soriano has had somewhat of a surprising start to his Yankee career considering his utter dominance from last season.  This continued when he allowed one run and two runs, respectively, in Yankee losses to the White Sox on the 25th and 26th    

However, these struggles by Rivera and Soriano were never that much of a concern because Soriano and especially Rivera’s track record has been outstanding.  Rivera is most likely the best closer of all time and Soriano was an All-Star and led the league in saves last season.  Soriano has recently returned to respectability recording consecutive holds during the eighth inning, on Saturday and Sunday, only giving up a hit and a walk combined.  In three appearances since the 24th Rivera has gone onto only allow one base hit while converting three saves.

Those two players have broken out of their mini slumps but four players on offense could use some intervention from hitting Coach Kevin Long.  Curtis Granderson met with him last August in Texas to revamp his swing and since then he has hit 22 home runs, which is the 3rd highest total in baseball behind Jose Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki. 

Gardner seems to be showing signs of a turn-around having five hits in his last eight at bats, with a home run and a stolen base.  His .200 average is still not where it should be but all the Yankees can ask for is for him to continue hitting the way he has the last four games.  Gardner plays excellent defense and is able to catch many fly balls that other outfielders are not able to.  Swisher had a breakout year last season and is only batting .218 so far.  He showed signs of last season’s form with on April 28th against his former team, the White Sox, hitting three hits and his first home run of the campaign.

The last two struggling Yankees are Jeter and Posada.  It is hard to tell whether it is their advanced age catching up to them, a prolonged slump or a combination of the two.  Jeter is 36 while Posada is 39, and that is what might be causing them to produce stats much less than their career average.  Jeter is hitting .242 with only six RBI and is hitting ground balls at an alarming rate.  Posada is only batting .133 but his six home runs is slightly encouraging.  However, a slugging percentage of .387 and 12 RBI so far is not typical production form a Designated Hitter.  Hopefully Long can tweak something with their swing to help them getting on base and produce runs like they are accustomed to.

This probably will not happen but it would make sense to bat Jeter seventh or eighth in the lineup.  He is only 51 hits away from joining the 3,000 hit club, which will be a major accomplishment, so he will probably continue batting leadoff until then.  This will give him as many opportunities as possible but afterwards I would bat him seventh or eighth.   Once he moves down in the order it would make sense to leadoff Gardner since he has so much speed. This would be best for the team. 

A change that was made which was a very smart decision by Joe Girardi was hitting Granderson second in the lineup.  This should continue for the foreseeable future because he is currently not showing any flaws in his swing, while hitting for power and average.

The pitching matchups for the series against the Tigers at Comerica Park sees Bartolo Colon face Justin Verlander, CC Sebathia matches up against Brad Penny, Freddy Garcia takes on Max Scherzer and A.J. Burnett battles Rick Porcello.  I could see the Yankees winning three out of four with the loss coming on Wednesday against Scherzer.  Even though Garcia has the much lower ERA he showed signs of ineffectiveness and loss of control in his last start. 

Tonight the Yankees are facing Verlander, who is one of the best pitchers in the American League, but Colon has pitched like an ace so far, so it seems like the game could be a pitcher’s duel.  The Yankees will have the edge if the game gets to a battle of the back end of the bullpen. 

>Cashman’s Acquisitions Were on the Money

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There is no way to tell if a players encouraging or underachieving start to the season will continue or not but so far Brian Cashman’s offseason signings have been a resounding success, overall.  He deserves praise for his strategy of signing many low risk high reward veteran players hoping that many of them would capitalize.

Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez are both hitting above .300 in limited action with Jones even adding a home run as one of his six hits.  An added benefit of signing Chavez is that he gives the team versatility since he can play first base and third base.  Freddy Garcia has only allowed one run in three appearances, two starts.  They will need him to continue this dominance.  Russell Martin has played like the All Star he was a few years ago before his injuries.  He is hitting .292, with six home runs, 16 RBI and has shown the speed from earlier in his career with two stolen bases.  Martin is constantly hustling and has proven to cause havoc on the base-paths.  

The off-season signing who has surprised the most is none other than Bartolo Colon. He has likely been the Yankees most dominating pitcher so far.  He has proven that his excellent numbers from winter league and Spring Training were not a fluke.  Most probably doubted Colon in Spring Training because he showed up out of shape and did not even pitch in the major leagues last season but so far he looks the pitcher who won 21 games for the Angles in 2005.  So far, in five appearances and two starts, he has 26 strikeouts, six walks and has recorded a stellar 2.77 ERA.

Cashman’s most expensive offseason signing was Rafael Soriano who was coming off an All Star season with the Tampa Bay Rays.  He was signed to a three-year, $35 million contract after recording a 1.73 ERA, 45 saves and 57 strikeouts with Tampa Bay.  So far this season he has allowed nine earned runs which is only three less than he surrendered all of last season.

Soriano came to the Yankees with a lot of hype because it seemed like he would be the perfect bridge to Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning, and be a suitable replacement for Rivera when he does retire.  However, as stated above he has not produced on the field, in addition to having meltdowns as well as refusing to talk to the press after ruining a CC Sebathia win against the Twins.  He has even used the cold weather as an excuse for giving up runs earlier in the season.

It is possible that he is one of the players that just can’t handle the media and everything that comes with playing in New York City but based on his performance that last few years it seems like he will bounce back.   In 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010 he pitched in at least 53 games and his ERA was always 3.00 or below.  His previous track record surely suggests that he will have many more shut down performances than not the rest of the season.

The other pitcher that Cashman signed that was going to be counted on as being a reliable lefty out of the bullpen was Pedro Felicano.  He was somewhat of a risky signing coming into the season because over the last three years he led the majors in appearances.  He suffered a torn capsule in his left shoulder in Spring Training and is now likely out for the season.  This is not the end of the world because relief pitchers are so hard to predict before the season anyway.  Cashman could not predict that this injury was coming and if needed the Yankees can sign another lefty in July.    

Jones and Chavez offer reliable bats off the bench that the Yankees did not have last season and the team will need the stellar pitching from Colon and Garcia to continue.  Hughes will be out for an extended period of time so if Colon can continue to “turn back the clock” it will surely be an added bonus.  The bullpen can still be a strength of the team when Soriano lives up to his past performance.