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Eight is Great, But Nine Is Finer
2005-05-16 23:11
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

. . . and rolling, and rolling . . .

The Yanks made it nine straight in Seattle last night thanks to another strong performance by Chien-Ming Wang and a seventh-inning grand slam by Bernie Williams in his first start of the road trip.

Wang coughed up a pair of runs to the Mariners in the first on an Ichiro Suzuki single and stolen base, an Adrian Beltre single and a Raul Ibanez double. He then retired eighteen straight batters before getting knocked out of the game in the seventh by a Bret Boone double (misplayed just a half inning after his grand slam by Bernie, who started in center for the first time since the big shakeup) and a more legitimate double by Jeremy Reed that drove Boone home. TanGorMo kept the M's scoreless the rest of the way. And yes, Wang did post a season-high four strikeouts, while not walking a batter for the first time in his four major league starts.

As for the Yanks, they got runners on in each of the first five innings against Aaron Sele, but only got one of them home, a Robinson Cano lead-off double in the third that was cashed in on a pair of groundouts by Hideki Matsui and Alex Rodriguez. Batting second for the first time (Womack sat), Cano went 2 for 5 and is now 13 for 22 with six doubles in his last five starts.

Sele struck out the side in the sixth, but the last strike was his 115th pitch, so, leading 2-1, Mike Hargrove went to his pen in the seventh. Shigetoshi Hasegawa loaded the bases with one out. Lefty George Sherrill (who replaced Joel Pineiro on the roster) got Tino (who didn't homer, but drew an intentional walk earlier in the game with a man on second and two outs) to ground into a fielder's choice, forcing Sheffield out at home and keeping the bases loaded with one out.

That brought up Bernie Williams, who had a walk, a groundout and a flyout on the night. Hargrove went to his top righty set-up man, J.J. Putz. Putz fired a fastball to Bernie and Bernie smacked it to dead center. Centerfielder Jeremy Reed went back, jumped and reached over the wall, the ball hit his mitt and the simultaneous impact of the ball and the wall knocked Reed's glove off his hand. Grand slam. 5-2 Yankees.

The M's pulled a run closer against Wang, as mentioned, but the Yanks came right back against Jeff Nelson on singles by Cano, Sheffield and E-Rod to put the final score at 6-3.

The Yankees are now one game over .500 and just a half game behind Toronto for third place in the AL East. Also, the A's snapped their eight-game losing streak against the Red Sox, allowing the Yankees to pull within 2.5 games of the World Champs. The Yankees' current nine-game winning streak is their longest since they won nine in late June and early July of 2001. Lastly, when the Yankees were struggling in April and the first week of May, Joe Torre repeatedly said that he was just waiting for the team to pull off nine out of ten and get going. Well, guess what?

Comments
2005-05-17 03:54:23
1.   Paul
Could the YES radar gun have been accurate last night? Wang was regularly at 94 mph on the fastball, which appeared to have some nice sink on it.

Bernie still has some power -- maybe more than Giambi.

2005-05-17 04:38:19
2.   Cliff Corcoran
The word on Wang when he was called up was mid-90s heat, so yes. Possible this kid's just getting warmed up.
2005-05-17 05:47:40
3.   Alex Belth
Bern, baby Bern. Man, that is so freakin cool. Couldn't be more pleased for our man Bernie.
2005-05-17 05:52:37
4.   Dan M
Really happy for Bernie at the plate, but he looked terrible in the field. I didn't see the misplay that happened late, but I thought he looked bad on the Ibanez double that scored 2, regardless of what David Justice says.

Btw, does Justice have diarrhea of the mouth or what? I liked it last night when Kay made 3 points about Safeco versus Kingdome, and then DJ followed up with the exact same three points.

2005-05-17 05:58:26
5.   singledd
Cliff - I need some HELP. I know Bernie's defensive skills are shot. However, I've seen 2 plays where Womack totally blew it in LF... and I don't know how many others I haven't seen. On offense, I still take Bernie over Womack... last night being just one example of why.

So, if we DO play Bernie in the OF, is he less of a liability in LF then CF?

Might Mitsui be better in CF then LF?

On a purely defensive level, whats the diff between Womack and Bernie if LF? (This is assuming that the Yanks ONLY use Bernie in LF when he's in the OF, and he practices & works out in LF).

I think we know what Womacks FULL potential is. We know Bernie ain't what he used to be... but the question is... what is he capable of now if he plays quasi-regularly? It's just hard to see Womack in the line-up instead of Bernie or Giambi.

2005-05-17 06:00:49
6.   kevinmeyers
Dan M, Justice is just awful. I was highly amused by his second-inning dissertation on how unfair it was for Yankees fans to be displeased with Giambi, because "it's impossible to get a hit every single time you're at bat." Thanks for that, Dave. Giambi's batting .204. We just want him to get to .250. Is that too much to ask from an $80MM man?
2005-05-17 06:21:34
7.   Simone
Another day, another win. I likey. I'm thrilled that Bernie got his grand slam. If this is Bernie's last year with the Yankees, for sentimental reasons, I want Bernie to go out with dignity. He has been so underapperciated by Yankee fans and Steinbrenner, but those championships were won on Bernie's back as much as Mo's. Bernie can still contribute at the plate and I hope Joe continues to give him that chance.
2005-05-17 06:55:04
8.   monkeypants
"Cliff - I need some HELP. I know Bernie's defensive skills are shot. However, I've seen 2 plays where Womack totally blew it in LF... and I don't know how many others I haven't seen. On offense, I still take Bernie over Womack... last night being just one example of why."

Womack may look bad in the OF (I don't know, I can only listen to the games on radio), butwhat do the stats say? Right now his RF = 2.51, slightly higer than Randy Winn's 2.50 (and Winn has the highest RF of any AL leftfielder who has enough games to "qualify" on ESPNet's MLB stat page). Womack's ZR = .824, however, which would put him near bottom of the heap for AL LF. I'm not sure what this all proves, especially since the sample size is so small and defensive stats are notoriously difficult to analyze.

2005-05-17 07:16:52
9.   Cliff Corcoran
Singledd, I have been more than satisfied with Womack's outfield defense. His routes to balls are efficient, his throws are strong and accurate and, as would be expected, his speed allows him to get to every ball one would expect to be caught (which can't be said for poor Bernie). Checking the defense metric I prefer, Baseball Prospectus's Rate stat, he's at a very strong 108 (8 runs above average over 100 games). By comparison, Bernie in center this year has a 91 Rate (9 runs below average over 100 games). That's a huge swing.

That said, Rate has Matsui at a staggering 83 Rate in center, 17 runs below average (he was an even 100 in left). I have not noticed any huge issues with Matsui's defense in center, though part of that may be that I accept his limited range in center because I expected it as he's not an especially mobile player. At any rate, those Rate stats would support the suggestion I had made when this shift was initially implemented, that once Womack has proven himself comfortable in the outfield (which he has done) he should be moved into center with Matsui coming back to left. That would fix many problems. The centerfield defense being one of them. The other being that, while Womack will always be below average at the plate no matter where you play him, he should at least be closer to acceptable in center, which despite the Mantles and Mays (and Edmonds, Bernies and Beltrans) of the world, is a defense-first position.

Lastly, this would indeed support the notion that left field is an easier position at which to excell, which would mean Bernie would be less of a liability in left. Though if you plan to sit Womack and play Bernie, you're guaranteed to get poor defense in center, unless Matsui can shape up (which I expect he will to some extent, though perhaps not all the way to league average).

Much as I recognize Womack's shortcomings on offense, if Cano's recent hot streak is proof that he can contribute at the plate consistantly (and bat second with Womack moving back to 9th), the Yankees would be better off with Womack in the field and resigning Bernie to a full-time DH role (with Giambi in spot starts and pinch-hitting duty, or in a hot-hand platoon with Bernie). The Yankees need more help on defense (where they remain dead last in the majors in defensive efficiency) than they do on offense (where they lead the majors in runs scored, by 13 runs over Boston).

2005-05-17 07:47:29
10.   JohnnyC
Look, they ended up winning anyway and Bernie had the clutch hit but is anyone puzzled, dismayed, or saddened by Torre's line-up last night? The Mariners' offensive troubles notwithstanding, the Yankees had to play a six inning offense against a nine inning offense yesterday. With Bernie, Giambi, and Flaherty belly to belly and a back to back at 7-8-9, Torre was starting an extreme National League line-up with the equivalent of three pitchers batting consecutively. Bernie came through but that's just another instance of Torre's dumb luck coming through. Bernie should have been slotted in the 2 hole with Cano left alone in the 9 hole (can we not try to complicate the kid's life?). Sele got through his horrendous 115 pitch performance because Torre literally gave him a roadmap to navigate the Yankees' line-up (Sheffield was walked 3 times to get to Matsui who has yet to get a hit of Sele and once he got past Tino he was home free).
2005-05-17 08:50:54
11.   Murray
Williams's play on Ibanez's double struck me as being the kind of play Bernie didn't make back when he was a good outfielder, so I wasn't torn up about him missing it. It was a deep fly ball that almost landed on the warning track. Bernie was probably playing him to hit it the other way.

This is more a point of departure for conversation/analysis than an actual assessment, but I wonder why, with all the alleged attention the Yankees pay to advance scouting, they haven't been able to improve the quality of their defense through better positioning.

2005-05-17 09:10:23
12.   Cliff Corcoran
Personally, I believe the Yankee scouting has suffered a steep decline in quality since the late '90s when they seemed to have their opponents strengths and weeknesses tatooed on the insides of their eyelids. I haven't heard boo about Yankee scouting in recent years and I haven't seen much evidence of it either.
2005-05-17 09:18:01
13.   Murray
Agreed, but I'd like to know: did they cut the scouting budget? Did the scouts change?

Also, I know they won yesterday, but remember when they used to beat Sele into a pulp at will? They barely scratched him yesterday, even with the six walks. Ah, the good old days...

2005-05-17 09:33:26
14.   Nick from Washington Heights
"Ah, the good old days..."

Nostalgia implies a dissatisfaction with the present but at this moment the Yanks are winners of 9 in a row. For the most part they have dominated their opponents during this streak, and then they have one game in which they have to come back and people are all stuck in the past. I'm happy right now. Shouldn't we all be happy at this moment?

Man, one thing that does suck truly about these days is the awful radio team of Suzyn and Sterling. Ah, the good old days of Kay and Sterling (Sterling was so much better then).

2005-05-17 09:45:26
15.   Nick from Washington Heights
things to feel especially good about as a Yanks fan:

1. Wang
2. Jeter's increased patience at the plate bodes well for him continuing to be an effective hitter as he ages
3. Sheffield is my hero and he should be yours.
4. Gordon has been showing flashes of Gordon from last year recently
5. Tino!
6. Cano
7. The Big Unit has yet to be the Big Unit but he will. Oh, he will...
8. Mussina has been very good of late. It took him until September last year to get good.
9. Wright is hurt. His injury should function as an object lesson to the Boss that his Tampa people are useless and should be ignored.
10. Cashman's moves occurred right before this hot streak (and perhaps this means that Steinbrenner will be converted into believing Cashman is useful and should again have more power than Tampa morons).
11. The Bronx is still the birthplace of hip hop, and the home of the Yanks.

2005-05-17 10:10:22
16.   Cliff Corcoran
Murray, they beat Sele to a pulp at will in his last start. That was a week ago today. Sele's line:

2 2/3 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 1 HR, 2 BB, 0 K

Or were you kidding?

2005-05-17 11:17:00
17.   Mick S
For what it is worth, it should be noted that Bernie and Giambi provided the go ahead runs in back to back games. I was at the game in Oakland on Saturday when the Yanks won 15-5. We got there early enough to watch the Yanks take batting practice. Giambi hit more out than anyone else. His swing seems fine and just needs to find his timing again. Watching Sheffield take his cuts was pretty enjoyable too.
2005-05-17 11:24:57
18.   Cliff Corcoran
SLC, that only supports my theory that Giambi is a batting practice hitter at this point. Here's hoping I'm wrong.
2005-05-17 12:26:19
19.   Murray
I hadn't paid attention to Sele's previous start against the Yanks, so I wasn't kidding. My just desserts for an ill-considered observation.
2005-05-17 13:58:57
20.   brockdc
JohnnyC,

Yeah, I was whining about the same thing last night. Let's see, hmmm...how can we stifle some of that momentum we've been gathering over the past week? Ah, yes! Offer up a lineup that epitomizes the meaning of "plodding."

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