Sunday, May 11, 2014

Should We Be Concerned About CC?

The Yankees always seemed to have trouble against the Milwaukee Brewers, especially in Milwaukee, when the Brew Crew were in the American League. Their shift to the National League in 1998 removed that particular obstacle.

But, this season, the vicissitudes of Interleague play have put a trip to Beer City back on the agenda. And the Brewers had gotten off to a fantastic start, leaving them with the 2nd-best record in the majors. (Ironically, the one team ahead of them was the Detroit Tigers, who moved over from the AL East and took their place in the AL Central, as the expansion Tampa Bay Rays took the Tigers' place.)

A big reason for this is that Francisco Rodriguez, who bedeviled the Yankees in the 2002 and 2005 Playoffs, helped the Angels win the 2002 World Series, and set the current major league record for saves in a season before melting down with the Mets, has found his form. K-Rod has been brilliant these first 6 weeks of the season, doing for the Brewers what he once did for the Angels, what Mariano Rivera did for us for so long.

The series opened on Friday night, with Masahiro Tanaka starting for the Yankees, and more than anyone else, he has been the biggest boost of the season for the Yankees.

A close second is Yangervis Solarte, who hit his 2nd home run of the season as the replacement for Ol' What's His Name at 3rd base. He took Yovani Gallardo, the supposed Brewer ace, deep. It was a 3-run homer, in a 4-run inning that also included an RBI double by Brian Roberts, who replaced Robinson Canupayme at 2nd base.

Tanaka cruised through the first 5 innings, but ran into a little trouble in the 6th. But he settled down, and got into the 7th. He allowed 2 runs on 7 hits and just 1 walk -- the only walk given up by Yankee pitching that night. Adam Warren finished the 7th, and got through the 8th, facing 5 batters and getting them all out.

The Yankees picked up an insurance run in the top of the 8th, making it 5-2. At the time, it didn't look like a big deal.

But David Robertson faltered a little in the 9th, giving up a home run to Mark Reynolds, one of the few players the Yankees had last season who was actually a bright spot -- and was now playing for the enemy. (Not to be confused with The Enemy, namely that team in Boston, whom Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers had a no-hitter going. With 1 out to go, he faced David Ortiz, and the big fat lying cheating bastard ruined it by cheating his way to a single. The Rangers still beat the Red Sox 8-0.)

But D-Rob settled down, and nailed down the 5-3 win. WP: Tanaka (5-0). SV: Roberts (6). LP: Gallardo (2-2).

*

But last night's game was started by CC Sabathia, and the Big Fella hasn't done too well the last year or so. I saw somebody on Twitter say the ace isn't even a 4th starter anymore.

That may be a bit harsh, based on last night's start: CC only allowed 1 earned run in 5 1/3 innings. He only walked 1 batter. But he also allowed 8 hits, and an error led to 3 Brewer runs in the bottom of the 3rd.

The error was by Brendan Ryan, a former Seattle Mariner shortstop, who had 1 game this season to his credit going into last night. His lifetime batting average is .237. His career OPS+ is 72. Last season, divided between LoDo and the South Bronx, he batted .197. The year before, .194. He was in the game to give Derek Jeter a day off, since today's game is the dreaded D-GANG: Day Game After a Night Game. He was in the game for his defense.

He made an error, and went 2-for-2, before Joe Girardi pinch-hit Kevin Johnson for him, put him at 3rd base, and moved Solarte over to shortstop.

This is where John Sterling turns to Suzyn Waldman and says, "You know Suzyn, you just can't predict baseball."

That made it 4-2 Brewers after 3. But the Yankees came back. In the 6th, Mark Teixeira hit a home run off Brewer starter Kyle Lohse (whom you might remember from the Minnesota Twins' Playoff teams of the 2000s), 1 of 2 hits he got on the night, getting his batting average up to .253. (Chalk it up to the 30th annual "slow start by a Yankee 1st baseman," I suppose, but he may have turned the corner.) And the Yankees tied the game in the top of the 7th, on an RBI single by Alfonso Soriano, to get CC off the hook.

But getting CC off the hook didn't lead to a Yankee win. The returned Alfredo Aceves, ol' Number 91 himself, blew it in the bottom of the 7th. With 1 out, he allowed a double, then got another out, but advanced the runner to 3rd on a balk, and then allowed a single to get the run home (which probably would have happened even without the balk). After the Soriano single, the Yankees never got another baserunner, as the Milwaukee bullpen did the job.

Brewers 5, Yankees 4. WP: Zach Duke (3-0). SV: K-Rod (15). LP: Aceves (0-1).

*

In spite of CC not getting stuck with last night's loss I'm thinking we should be concerned about him. The man has averaged 213 innings pitched per season since he was 20 years old, and 230 innings over the last 7 seasons. That's not much by the standards of even the 1980s, but in the 5-man rotation era, it's a lot. Especially considering that he did start that average of 213 a season at age 20 (in 2001). Having 37 career complete games wouldn't sound like much in the old era, but in the new era, he is the current active leader. (He is also the current active leader in strikeouts, with 2,433.) His ERA+ over the last 4 seasons -- including this one, only 6 weeks old -- has gone from 143 to 125 to 85 to 71.

In 2013 and '14 combined thus far, he's made 33 starts, of which only 19 (including 3 that he lost anyway) have produced games in which he's deserved to win. (Based on performance -- based on personality and the fact that he's a Yankee, he deserves to win every game.) In those 33 starts, he's 17-17, with an ERA of 4.94. Last season he led the AL in earned runs with 112. Up until then, for his career, he was 191-102 with an ERA of 3.50 -- but that 4.94 has jacked it up to 3.63 (to go with his record now being 208-119). Meaning that, in the last season and a quarter of baseball, his career ERA has gone up 0.13.

His next start will most likely be on this coming Thursday, against the Mets, at Citi Field, a pitcher's park. If he does well there, we can relax a little. But if the Mets, who've tremendously struggled (to put it politely) at the plate this season, can beat him, then we can be very concerned that CC isn't the pitcher he was from 2001 to 2012, and may never be again.

He'll be 34 in a little over 2 months. A little soon to be burned out. He's not injured -- indeed, he's never failed to make at least 28 starts in a season -- but for him to lose his effectiveness due to overuse would be a shame.

The series concludes this afternoon, a 2:10 PM start (1:10 local time). David Phelps is scheduled to start for the Yankees, Matt Garza for the Brewers.

Come on you Bombers!

UPDATE: CC has been placed on the 15-day Disabled List, due to inflammation in his knee. So he won't be pitching against The Other Team on Thursday. He'll be eligible to come off on May 26, while the Yankees are in St. Louis.

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