Entering this game, CC Sabathia had 2.90 earned run average and 2.57 FIP, while James Shields had a 2.47 earned run average and 3.07 FIP. The pair didn’t disappoint, as they combined for 17 innings pitched and one run.
Shields pitched wonderfully against the team with the third-most runs scored in the league and the second-highest OPS in baseball. Sure, Alex Rodriguez nor Nick Swisher weren’t in the lineup, but it’s still the Yankees and it’s still within Yankee Stadium. Going eight innings and allowing only one run against them should be enough to win most games, but today it wasn’t, as Shields did make one mistake, and it had nothing to do with a poorly located fastball or hanging curveball.
In the seventh, Robinson Cano reached on a leadoff single. Jorge Posada hit a ball to center that B.J. Upton charged and fielded, with Cano retreating to first, Upton slang the ball towards first, but threw beyond the playing field, netting Cano two bases, and giving the Yankees one of their few scoring opportunities. After Russell Martin grounded out to third, and Sean Rodriguez held Cano, Shields would try to hook up with Rodriguez on a backdoor pickoff attempt, but Shields threw the ball over Rodriguez’s head, allowing Cano to easily score. That was all the scoring.
Some are going to question the pickoff itself, but Shields had Cano dead to rights, he simply didn’t execute. Others will point to Upton’s throw. Indeed, the upside—getting Cano out—pales in comparison to the downside—Cano trotting into third. Elliot Johnson survived a similar play earlier in the game, when he took an Eduardo Nunez ball deep in the hole and attempted to—for lack of a batter verb—Jeter it. Sometimes, trying too hard is just as bad as not trying hard enough. Upton, like Johnson and Shields, tried to do too much on the play, and it wound up burning him, just like it burned Shields.
Offensively, credit Sabathia. There is a reason he is one of the best pitchers in baseball, and this Rays lineup, even loaded down with righties, had no hope. The Rays had a runner beyond first base twice all day: Johnson in the first inning and Rodriguez in the second. Rodriguez would be thrown attempting to steal third, and the Rays would make two other outs on the paths, both by Upton (once trying to steal, and another on a hit-and-run that netted a line out and throw out). Because of that Upton is going to take some heat, and he should for the mistakes, but at the same time, he should be given credit for throwing out Nunez at the plate earlier in the game.
The one big issue I have with Joe Maddon’s management today is refusing to pinch-hit for Johnson in the ninth. Someone, please, send him a note in a poly mailerand give him a piece of your mind. Admittedly, I do not like Johnson batting second to begin with (although he has hit .256/.385/.302 off lefties prior to this game, it felt like a decision made in order to set up a sacrifice bunt, and that isn’t how you should build a lineup). Johnson did have a double, but in the ninth inning, with two outs, against Sabathia, I’d much rather take my chances with Matt Joyce or Johnny Damon, neither of whom entered the game.
That’s a do or die situation, and while die is the most likely outcome, in that spot, I’m rolling with the best hitter. I don’t believe Johnson was the best hitter available.
After the game, Brandon Guyer was demoted. I fear I don’t have a good explanation. The guy who Guyer figures to eventually displace from the roster is Justin Ruggiano. It’s a matter of time, more or less, but I don’t know why the time isn’t right now. Assuming the service times rules haven’t changed, or aren’t about to radically change, then Guyer should be in the clear from Super Two status. At age 25, the Rays already will have him under team control through his late-20s, so there’s nothing there either.
There is a fine line between appealing to authority and pleading ignorance, but they go hand in hand when it comes to evaluating prospects and promotions. Matt Moore looks like someone who could easily ascend to Triple-A, but maybe the Rays want him to get a better grasp of his changeup before sending him up the rung. Stats can tell you a little of that story, but not all of it. With Guyer, his plate approach needs some work. Still, you have to wonder how much additional work he can and will put in when he is hitting .318/.389/.509 with 33 extra-base hits in 78 games.
Guyer, like Desmond Jennings before his injury (he broke a finger and will miss two weeks), appear to be ready when it comes to service time and statistics. Jennings is nearing 900 Triple-A plate appearances and was even on the playoff roster last season. If he isn’t ready by now, then his ability to hide flaws in his game is incredible. But again, I am ignorant about most of the prospects play, and can only rely on scouting reports, stats, and second-hand information. With his injury, Jennings will safely be under the Super Two date by the time he returns. My guess is that they just want to maximize his time in center, and that means waiting until they trade Upton. Until then, the Rays seem content rolling with Ruggiano as their right-handed corner outfielder of choice.
I assume there is a reason for every move. Lately, though, I’m having a hard time discovering them. Why Andy Sonnanstine was around all season without a real reason other than loss aversion mystifies me, and how the Rays chose to keep Sonnanstine in the majors, and on the 40-man roster, instead of Cory Wade is a little infuriating—although let’s be honest, that’s only because he signed with the Yankees, otherwise I wouldn’t really care. They’ve taught us how to think and approach moves, and with the Wade stuff, you sort of wonder what happened to screwing the system whenever possible. This organization has gotten to where it is because it milks the living daylights out of loopholes and margins. When I look at Ruggiano, I see no udders.
Entering Sunday, Ruggiano was hitting .276/.300/.474. He last drew a walk on May 30, giving him more than 70 plate appearances since, and in that span, he has a line of .290/,.286/.464. The power is nice, but even then, Guyer should be able to top that, even with a flawed approach at the plate. I think my biggest fear is that the Rays are keeping Guyer—and to an extent Jennings— down because they feel neither can play in the majors to a satisfactory level right now. If that is the case, and I have no idea if it is, then go ahead and forget about the playoff hopes. Because barring Andrew Friedman shaking the cosmos with a few trades, this team just isn’t good enough to beat out Boston or New York over 162 games.
I don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few weeks. I still think the team should approach every opportunity with an open mind and free of a buyer or seller label. Whether that ambiguous approach will yield a move is anyone’s guess. I can understand if they do nothing, because hey, trying too hard is just as bad as not trying hard enough.
Between now and the first pitch of the Boston series, I am going to enjoy two things:
1) Knowing Ron Washington has no authority over James Shields’ and David Price’s respective throwing arms.
2) Watching the Futures Game tonight as Tim Beckham, Matt Moore, and Hak-Ju Lee are on full display.
We have a half of baseball left in 2011, and while it’s infuriating at times, it’s better than nothing. The Rays are going to wrap their fourth-straight winning season in a matter of months, and almost nobody is happy. Isn’t it great?