Sunday, May 31, 2009

Yanks Endure Some Growing Pains

When the Yankees play their kids, every so often we'll have to endure a game like this.

That doesn't make the loss any easier to accept or that aftertaste any less bitter, though.

Brett Gardner made two mental mistakes, Phil Hughes ran into one rough inning, and Phil Coke and David Robertson struggled with their control in the ninth as the Yankees lost to the Indians 5-4 on Jhonny Peralta's walk-off single Sunday in Cleveland.

Rookies are going to have their ups and their downs. All rookies have growing pains. They're going to make their share of mistakes and, hopefully, learn from them. But did they all have to come in one game? GUH!

The most visible culprit was Gardner, who took a step in on Asdrubal Cabrera's line shot in the fifth, playing it into a double and costing the Yankees and Hughes a big run.

“If I step back instead of ahead, I catch that easily,” Gardner
said.

He got a bad read, but that happens sometimes, even to good, veteran fielders. I can remember Bernie Williams misplaying a ball or two.

Gardner's bigger problem came in the ninth after the Yankees had rallied to tie the score at 4.

Hideki Matsui led off against Indians closer Kerry Wood with a walk and Nick Swisher sacrificed pinch runner Ramiro Pena to second. Before I get to Gardner, why couldn't Pena steal second against Wood's slow delivery and be sacrificed to third?

Anyway, Garnder followed with an infield single, putting runners on the corners with Jorge Posada coming up. Everyone figured Gardner would run to take away the double play possibility. But Gardner stayed put, and, of course, Posada hit into the 4-6-3 to end the inning.

So why didn't Gardner run? Turns out Joe Girardi had put on the steal sign, but Gardner was worried about being picked off on the fake-to-third-throw-to-first attempt.

That's stunning. Gardner is on this team because of his speed and base running. When he's on base, he needs to be the most arrogant son-of-gun on the planet, almost Rickey Henderson-like. He needs to believe and act as if anytime he gets on first, it's as good as a double. And he can't ever, ever be worried that he's going to be picked off.

“I cost us the game,” he told Peter Abraham.

While it's good that Gardner understands the magnitude of his mistakes, they were not the only reasons why the Yankees lost this game.

Just look at the bottom half of that inning.

Phil Coke started it off by walking Trevor Crowe, the ninth batter hitting .170. Coke's had some good moments this season and some bad ones. This one ranks among the worst. Walking the leadoff man is always a bad move, but it's particularly bad when the batter isn't even sniffing the Mendoza line.

Cabrera followed with a sacrifice, and Girardi brought in Robertson.

Robertson had been throwing the ball very well since his return from Scranton, but not on this day. He walked Ben Francisco and then fell behind Peralta 3-and-1. He had to come in with a strike and it was too fat. Ball game over! Indians win!

But let's not take Hughes off the hook here. His stuff was lively, reaching 94 mph, and he should have been able to dominate this lineup, which was missing the injured Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez and Grady Sizemore.

In fact, he got ahead of most hitters 0-and-2 and 1-and-2, but instead of going after them, he nibbled. It resulted in a mediocre line: 5 innings, five hits, four runs, one walk, two hit batters, six strikeouts and 66 of 95 pitches for strikes.

He got burnt in the third. With one out, Crowe doubled and Cabrera singled to put runners on the corners. Francisco then walked and Peralta singled in two. Hughes then hit Shin-Soo Choo before Mark DeRosa hit a sacrifice fly and Ryan Garko grounded out, giving the Indians a 3-0 lead.

Hughes is only 22 and still developing into a good major league pitcher. The hope is that he'll evolve into the type of elite pitcher who can limit damage to one run, two at the most, when he gets into trouble like this.

Two other things bit the Yankees on this day. Derek Jeter extended his hitting streak to 14 with a leadoff double in the first. But that's as far as he went. Johnny Damon lofted a fly to center. Mark Teixeira grounded out and A-Rod ended the inning with a fly to center.

It was a great opportunity to jump on Carl Pavano, put the Indians in a hole and apply some pressure to that weak lineup. But the inning came undone when Damon failed to get Jeter over to third. Little ball plays a big role on championship teams and the Yankees have to become more consistent with that aspect of the offense. Sunday, it hurt them.

The other thing that hurt was a bad call by first base ump Mark Carlson. With one out, Jeter hit a topper and clearly beat the throw, but Carlson called him out. The play wasn't even close and Carlson probably realized his mistake when he saw the replay.

Damon followed with a single before Teixeira's 16th homer of the season. Instead of 4-2, it should have been 4-3.
However, Teixeira still tied it at 4 in the eighth with a two-run double.

May was a great month for Teixeira. He hit .330 with a .398 OBP and .747 SLG. That's a 1.145 OPS to go along with 34 RBI and 25 runs in 28 games. He's raised his average from .182 to .281 and is a strong candidate for player of the month.

The other big bright spot for the Yankees in this game was Chien-Ming Wang, who pitched three more scoreless innings, lowering his inflated ERA to 16.07. He was topping out at 94 and his pitches were diving sharply. He allowed three hits -- all grounders -- and one walk, while striking out three. Only one ball was lifted in the air, a fly ball to left that Damon caught for the final out of the eighth.

Wang threw 28 of 42 pitches for strikes and could have pitched the ninth, but Girardi needed to hold him back just in case Pettitte can't pitch Wednesday because of his stiff lower back.

But Wang looks all the way back. He looks like that guy who lead the majors with 38 wins in 2006-07.

So let the debate rage. When will Wang return to the rotation and what will the Yankees do with Hughes and Joba Chamberlain? Chamberlain starts today and Hughes will get another start.

If Hughes is mediocre again, he could be sent down, though I don't think that will help his development. But if he has another strong start, demoting him will be tough.

The Yankees have no intention of move Joba to the bullpen until he gets near his innings limit, despite the calls of many --and Dave -- to do so. The Yankees envision him being a starter for his career and want to build up his innings. Another year in the bullpen would hinder that growth.

And Wang needs to pitch regularly to be effective.

That would seem to indicate the Yankees are headed to some form of a six-man rotation, though that's not an ideal situation either.

This is going to be a tough decision for Girardi and Brian Cashman, but it's a good problem to have.

This much is for sure: the Yankees are going to need all these guys as the season goes on. Another injury is more likely than everyone staying healthy, making whatever decision Giradi and Cashman arrive at nothing more than a short-term answer.

One more thing ...
The Yankees did not make an error, extending their errorless streak to 17 and tying the 2006 Red Sox for the major league record.

Runners In Scoring Position
Sunday
2-for-8 (.250)
Season
127-for-460 (.276)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
61-for-192 (.318)

Up Next
Monday at Indians, 7:05 p.m., YES, ESPN
Chamberlain (2-1, 3.97 ERA) vs. Jeremy Sowers (1-2, 7.71)

Joba needs a strong start here or the calls for his return to the bullpen will get only louder -- not that Cashman intends to listen to them. But more importantly, the Yankees' lead over the Red Sox in the AL East is a half game. Yanks need the win to maintain sole possession.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

CC Keeps Yankees' Roll Chugging Along

Can we bury all that ridiculous talk about CC Sabathia no longer being able to compete in American League now?

The guy is a legit ace and can pitch in any league and beat any team, no matter what Dave says.

Sabathia had his fifth straight strong start, holding the Indians hitless for 4-1/3 innings and leading the Yankees to a 10-5 victory in Cleveland Saturday. The Yankees have won 14 of 17 and now lead the Red Sox and Blue Jays by 1-1/2 games in the AL East.

Sabathia has been the anchor of this run, going 4-0 over those five starts with a 2.08 ERA. He's struck out 32 in 39 innings and has made his April struggles nothing but a distant memory. For the season he's 5-3 with a 3.46 ERA and he has become everything the Yankees were hoping for when they signed him in the offseason.

For comparison's sake, the best ERA for a Red Sox starter is Tim Wakefield's 4.55, followed by Josh Beckett's 4.60. But that, Boston's inability to win on the road and the Red Sox's 15-16 record since their 11-game winning streak, are all issues for Dave to worry about. I'll keep my focus on the first-place Yankees.

So let's start by focusing on the starting pitching. In this 14-3 stretch, the starters are 7-1 with a 3.26 ERA (37 runs in 102 innings). They have nine quality starts in this run and are averaging 6 innings per start, including Joba Chamberlain's abbreviated two-thirds of an inning outing.

And it all starts with CC.

Saturday, in his first outing in Cleveland as a visitor, Sabathia allowed three runs on five hits and three walks. He struck out eight and threw 70 of 113 pitches for strikes.

And over the first four innings, he was dominant, throwing just 48 pitches. The Indians couldn't touch him. and he gave the offense plenty of time to get going ... and did it ever.

Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher homered in the second and the Yankees pounded out five more runs in the fourth against Fausto Carmona to put this one away. Hideki Matsui went 3-for-5 with an RBI, Robinson Cano 2-for-5 with 3 RBI and Derek Jeter extended his hitting streak to 13 games. The only starter not to get a hit was Brett Gardner ... and he still scored a run.

The Yankees went 5-for-14 with runners in scoring position and are 59-for-184 (.321) since Alex Rodriguez rejoined the team on May 8. It's a dramatic turnaround for a unit that was hitting .246 with RISP before A-Rod's return.

This is how Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman envisioned the offense and starting pitching when the season began. But during this winning stretch, the Yankees' defense might be the biggest surprise.

The Yankees have gone 16 games without an error, one short of the major league record set by those vile Red Sox in 2006. How sweet would it be to erase the Sox from that record, especially because entering the season, the Yankees' defense was suspect?

The biggest reason for the dramatic improvement is Mark Teixeira, who not only is able to make the plays on off-target throws from the other infielders, but also makes plays in the field the Yankees have not seen since the days of Tino Martinez.

Yes, Teixeira's offensive prowess is huge, but his defense reminds us just what we were missing in the Jason Giambi era.

The only down note on this night was Jose Veras ... and isn't he always a down note? He allowed two more runs while closing out the win. I'm not going to get too wrapped up in it other than to say, designate him for assignment NOW! He's of no use to this team.

But when you get starting pitching like the Yankees have been getting, you can absorb Veras' disasters.

And when Sabathia is that starting pitcher, odds are always very good the Yanks will win.

Of Note
Andy Pettitte said his back is improving and he expects to make his next start against the Rangers on Wednesday. He tweaked his back Monday in Texas and aggravated it during the win Friday. Again, I say the only way he should make his next start is if he is 100 percent healthy. Otherwise, take the extra days of treatment and let Chien-Ming Wang fill in.

Runners In Scoring Position
Saturday
5-for-14 (.357)
Season
125-for-452 (.277)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
59-for-184 (.321)

Up Next
Sunday at Indians, 12:40 p.m., YES, TBS
Phil Hughes (3-2, 5.16) vs. Carl Pavano (5-4, 5.50)

Hughes is coming off his best start as a major leaguer, but needs to back that up with another strong start to help secure his spot in the rotation and in the majors.

Yankees Back Where They Belong

It's been two long years, but the Yankees are finally back in a familiar spot: atop the AL East.

But it may have come at a price.

Andy Pettitte pitched five scoreless innings, but left in the sixth with a stiff lower back, replaced by Alfredo Aceves, who pitched three strong innings in relief to lead the Yankees to a 3-1 victory over the Indians in Cleveland Thursday to take a half-game lead over the second-place Red Sox, a 6-3 loser to the Blue Jays.

The Yankees (28-20) have won 13 of their last 16, while the Sox are 15-15 since their 11-game winning streak in April.

The last time the Yankees held first was the end of the 2006 season. And for the younger generation of Yankee fans, that must have felt like an eternity. Now the challenge is to continue this stretch of solid play to build a lead and put some pressure on the Sox.

And offensively the Yankees have nearly all their pieces back to do that. Jorge Posada was activated from the DL before the game and Kevin Cash sent down to Scranton. For the first time since June 22, 2008, Joe Girardi had Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui together in the same lineup.

Think about that. Those are three, high-quality, 100-RBI producers who have not been in the lineup together all season until Thursday, and yet, the Yankees this season find themselves back in first.

That firepower was simply too much for defending AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee to handle. He was able to escape a bases-load one-out jam in the first by striking out Robinson Cano and Posada, but he could not avoid damage in the second and third.

With one out in the second, Nick Swisher walked and Brett Gardner singled to put runners on first and third. Derek Jeter drove in one with a single, and after Johnny Damon singled to load the bases, Mark Teixeira's topper to first drove in another run. A-Rod struck out to end the threat.

The Yankees tacked on another run in the third on Swisher's sacrifice fly. The Yankees could have had much more, going 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position and stranding 10, but the three runs were enough on this night.

Lee allowed nine hits and two walks, throwing 71 of 112 pitches for strikes in just six innings. He struck out five, but the Yankees forced deep counts and made him work all night.

Pettitte (5-1), meanwhile, flirted with trouble all night, allowing runners in every inning, but maintained his composure and made the big pitches. He allowed one run on six hits and five walks in 5+ innings, striking out one. He threw 45 of 84 pitches for strikes, but wasn't quite right.

In the fifth, Girardi and assistant trainer Steve Donahue went to the mound, but Pettitte stayed in. They returned in the sixth, but this time Pettitte returned to the dugout with them.

Mark DeRosa led off with a single and Ben Francisco walked. Pettitte then fell behind Jamey Carroll 2-and-0 and couldn't go any further.

Aceves came in and finished the walk to load the bases with no outs, but struck out Kelly Shoppach on a nasty curve, got Shin-Soo Choo to hit a sacrifice fly to left and got Asdrubal Cabrera to ground to short to escape the jam.

Ace is reminding many of Ramiro Mendoza. He is versatile, able to start, pitch long relief or get big outs in big spots late in the game. He is becoming an invaluable part of this suspect bullpen and is quickly earning the a lot of trust.

Would it surprise anyone if he were to become the eighth-inning guy during Brian Bruney's absence?

He breezed through the seventh and eighth, allowing just a single to Francisco in the eighth, before handing the ball to Mariano Rivera for his 10 save of the season.

But now there is concern about Pettitte. Backs are tricky. Sometimes they'll loosen up quickly. Sometimes it will take longer.

The Yankees, however, have a luxury few teams have: six capable starters. If treatment loosens up Pettitte's back over the next couple of days, there is no issue -- Pettitte starts.

But if there is even the slightest hint that Pettitte isn't 100 percent, there is no need to force him out there and risk a bad start. Chien-Ming Wang is eager to get back in the rotation and can be lined up to take the ball.

Pettitte is a gamer and wouldn't want to be skipped, but it's a long season and the Yankees have options right now. Just don't do anything stupid here.

But that's the only real down note from this game.

The Yankees have overtaken the Red Sox and reclaimed their rightful throne. And that's plenty reason to feel good.

Runners In Scoring Position
Friday
2-for-12 (.167)
Season
120-for-437 (.275)

Up Next
Saturday at Indians, 7:05 p.m., YES
CC Sabathia (4-3, 3.42 ERA) vs. Fausto Carmona (2-4, 6.42)

CC has been a stud over his last four starts and would love to make it five against his former team. Since May 8, Sabathia has allowed six runs in 32 innings (1.69 ERA).

Friday, May 29, 2009

Beckett Is Back

Yes, I get a little nervous saying that as well. The last thing any good Boston fan wants to do is jinx Beckett. And since we are all superstitious (ask my wife about the shirt she wore during the 2004 playoffs) we really think we can affect his performance.


But brave soul that I am, I will talk about Josh Beckett's sterling performance yesterday afternoon. Seven innings, three hits, one runs and eight strikeouts gave Beckett his fifth win of the year as the Sox topped Minny 3-1. His ERA is now a more palatable (if still elevated) 4.60, but the important thing is how Beckett looks.


Beckett looks confident and in control. He looks like the guy from two years ago who mowed down the competition. He's got his swagger back and when that happens, opposing teams are in trouble. In the month of May, Beckett is 3-0 over five starts with a 2.38 ERA. His return to form is huge for the Sox. Now if Lester and Daisuke could follow his lead...


Speaking of returning to form, Jason Varitek continues to show that he can bring it at the age of 37. He went 2-3 with two solo shots. Basically, 'Tek and Beckett won the game for Boston. On the year, Jason now has 10 homers and 22 RBI. He is batting .247, which isn't horrible, but has a very nice .861 OPS that's good for third best amongst Boston starters. I'm glad he got those homers before he was ejected...


Ah yes, the umpire. While I don't dwell often on the arbiters of the game, Todd Tichenor deserves a little callout. Todd...no one comes to the game to see you! You should be invisible and have the ability to absorb a little criticism. Yes, I know you got called up from the PCL and are trying to establish yourself. But tossing both catchers and managers isn't the way to do it. Especially since (and it galls me to say this) Mike Redmond had a case on your calling Jeff Bailey safe. And since he never even touched you, tossing him was completely over the top. I can only guess your chucking 'Tek and Tito was too even the score. It was like MLB hired Joey Crawford away from the NBA to ref a game.


Back to the game...sadly, Ellsbury's hitting streak ended at 22 games. But it was an impressive display and just another peek at the talent this kid possesses. Just for kicks, I projected his numbers across a 15-year career if he stays healthy and plays at this current level. He generates some interesting numbers. At a minimum, he becomes one of the best base-stealers in MLB history. He'd be right up there with Vince Coleman and Tim Raines.


And, as always, the Sox bullpen was fantastic. Oki and Paps shut the door on the Twins, giving Oki his eighth hold of the year and Paps his 13th save. Papelbon is now tied with the Angels' Brian Fuentes for the most saves in the AL.


Julio Lugo went 0-3, but on the upside he didn't flub an easy throw or boot a ball to cost Boston the game. So that's a successful game for him.


The Sox salvaged a split in Minnesota, something for which every Sox fan should be grateful. Although, when you consider they should have swept the Twins, it kind of sucks a little as well. Hopefully the Sox can pile up a few wins in Toronto, starting tonight with Wakefield facing Casey Janssen. This will be the first time the Sox have ever seen Janssen as a starter. As a reliever, Janssen has had success against the Sox, allowing no runs in eight games and 7.1 innings of work. But that was a while ago; Janssen missed the entire 2008 season with a torn labrum. So it will be interesting to see how he fares against Boston's lineup.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

All Tied Up

Oh look! It's the Yankees. Just when you thought an over-priced, self-important team had faded away, they come right back. Woo. Hoo.


Well, it's not like you can say they don't deserve to be there. The Yankees have played their butts off. It's helps that their new stadium apparently has the same measurements as the Little League field I played on when I was 10, but they have played hard.


No, what's frustrating is that the Sox, again, lost a game they had every opportunity to win. But once again, one bad inning did them in. Daisuke gave up three runs in the third, turning a 1-0 Boston lead into a 3-1 deficit. And when Bay homered to get Boston within one, Delcarmen put the Sox in a bad position and then Masterson comes on and immediately beans in the insurance run. And just like that the Sox are sharing first.


The lineup didn't help, either. Outside of Ellsbury and Bay, no one did a hell of a lot. Oh, Ortiz dropped his average to .193 with another 0-fer. I almost forgot to mention that. Come June 1, this team needs to make a decision on Ortiz. Either bench him or DL him and get someone with a bat in there already! Guess what, Theo? Sub-.200 batters hurt your team in the sixth spot as well. I can tolerate Kottaras every now and again because he's not an everyday player and is on a learning curve to boot. But this Ortiz thing has to be resolved.


Really, what is there to say? The Sox should be 3-0 on this trip, but thanks to some silent bats and two really bad innings, they're 1-2 and the Yankees are in second only because of the fact that they can't beat us this year. As usual, it's going to be a Boston/New York slugfest to the finish.


But, even accounting for all the glumness above, I still think the Sox will prevail. They simply have more depth than the Yankees. And when the injury bugs hit some more in the dog days of summer, Boston is better poised to be able to fill the holes than the Yankees are. That's simply the truth.


Right now, though, it's as close as it has been all year atop the AL East. And while I'm none too thrilled about it, I figure I can try to be mature about the whole thing. And in that vein, I want to show you all a picture of CC Sabathia with Miley Cyrus.



There. I feel much better now.


As for tonight's game, it's the improving Josh Beckett against the completely unknown Anthony Swarzak. Another of those seeming mismatches that tend to bite the Sox on the butt when they happen on the road. Beckett is 4-2 right now and he should be 5-2 if not for the no-decision against the Mets. Another performance like that and he'll get his fifth win.


Yanks Tie For First, But Enough Of Veras

I want to wax poetic about A.J. Burnett's six shutout, three-hit innings.

I'd love to boast about the offense getting back into the grove, pounding out 15 hits, including four homers, two by Hideki Matsui.

It kills me that I can't focus on Chien-Ming Wang's very sharp two flawless innings.

I should be going on about the Yankees moving into a tie for first in the AL East following their 9-2 victory over the Rangers Wednesday in Arlington, Texas.

But I can't.

Something -- or rather -- someone just has me far to annoyed and angry.

That would be Jose Veras.

I've had enough of him. The next time I see him on the mound in pinstripes will be too soon. It is time for him to go.

It's tough to write about this after an easy win that put the Yankees into a tie for first, but I've had it. Enough is enough.

Aside from a 3-1 record, the numbers are simply ugly. In 19-2/3 innings over 21 games, Veras has a 6.41 ERA allowing 14 runs on 17 hits and 14 walks. That's a 1.58 WHIP. He's allowed three homers and hit two batters.

He has struck out 15, which translates to 6.41 per nine innings, down from 9.83 last season.

In his 12 outings in May, there have been only three in which he has not allowed a hit or walk. And none of those flawless outings have been a full inning.

With runners in scoring position, batters are hitting .308 against him. When there is a runner on first, .500. And when there is no one out, .280. Veras has become a fire-starter.

And Wednesday was just inexcusable. Leading 7-0, Veras entered the game. All he had to do was attack the hitters and throw strikes. But he couldn't even do that.

Jerrod Saltalamacchia led off with a double. Elvis Andrus followed with a ground out to first, then Ian Kinsler launched a homer to left. Michael Young followed with a walk and Veras' night was done. It was a miracle that he recorded one out.

Veras is out of options and can't be send down. The only way to get rid of him would be to trade him (yeah, right!) or to release him. I understand why the Yankees don't want to designate him for assignment. He throws 95 mph. His fastball is lively. He has good stuff.

But he can't throw strikes.

The Yankees are afraid if they cut him, someone will pick him, he'll blossom and come back to haunt them.

In the meantime, he's killing them. He's unreliable and untrustworthy. Joe Girardi can't give him a set role as a result. Kyle Farnsworth at his worst wasn't this bad.

If the bullpen was stable and performing well overall, maybe the Yankees could have the patience to let Veras work out his problems. But this unit is woefully short and needs reliable arms.

It is time for Veras to be DFA'd.



Mark Melancon has had some struggles since returning to Scranton, allowing four runs and eight hits in 6-1/3 innings over six outings, but those four runs have come in just two of the appearances.

If Girardi commits to giving Melancon regular work, I would consider bringing him back to replace Veras. At least he's an arm that can be developed.

In the meantime, please, please, please no more Veras.

OK, now that I've gotten that off my chest, a little on the game that has vaulted the Yankees into a first-place tie. Gee, that sounds good. And it's been a long time since we've been able to say "first place" and "Yankees" in the same sentence.

They've done it by winning 12 of their last 15, getting a lot of timely hitting, some very strong starting pitching and better -- though no where near satisfactory -- outings out of the bullpen. Meanwhile, the Red Sox have gone 14-14 since their 11-game winning streak in April. And the Blue Jays, well, they've lost nine straight are fading fast.

Burnett finally got going in the right direction, striking out seven and earning his first victory since April 14. It wasn't a perfect outing, he did walk four and threw 118 pitches -- 70 strikes -- but the Rangers couldn't touch him.

He said after the game that he was able to repeat his mechanics throughout the outing, when in his recent struggles, his mechanics would get out of whack for three or four batters and he'd get burned. It's a good first step that he'll need to repeat in order to regain that confidence and swagger he had when the season began.

He also benefited from a ton of offense. A game after going 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position Tuesday, the lineup up cranked out the runs, despite leaving 10 runners on base. Mark Teixeira had a two-run homer in the first to take some pressure of Burnett. Matsui broke out of 3-for-23 slide with his two blasts and Robinson Cano added one more in the ninth, tying the Yankees with the Rangers with 77 homers on the season, most in the majors.

Derek Jeter also went 3-for-4 with a double, raising his average to .297 and Kevin Cash went 2-for-4 with two RBI.

Cash's time with Yankees may be running short. Jorge Posada might be activated for the Yankees' game at Cleveland Friday, leaving the Yankees with a choice of whom to cut: Cash or Angel Berroa. I think the wiser move would be to DFA Berroa, who really doesn't fit on this team. Berroa is not a great fielder, runner or hitter. He's pretty much useless.

Cash, however, is a solid catcher and has started to hit a bit. He'd give the team three catchers and give Girardi enough flexibility to DH Posada or use him as pinch hitter.

But, aside from claim a share of first (that reads really well, no matter how many times I type it), the best news of the night was Wang's performance.

While his velocity topped out at only 92 (remember, at his best he was hitting 95), his pitches were diving through the zone. He struck out two and threw 18 of 26 pitches for strikes, lowering his ERA 20.25. The Rangers struggled to get the ball into the air or even make contact. It appeared Dave Eiland had been to correct Wang's mechanics

It was a big step for Wang and boost to his confidence. He'll be staying in the bullpen for a little while, but a few more outing like this will force Girardi to get him back into the rotation pretty soon.

And once Wang is fully back, just imagine what this team will be able to do.

Couple Of Notes
The initial diagnosis on Melky Cabrera's injury right should is a strain and he'll miss five to seven days. The Yankees sent him back to New York for a second opinion, but if it comes back the same, it's great news. The Yankees won't make a roster move and will ride out Melky's absence short-handed in the outfield. Ramiro Pena and Berroa have been talking fly balls as a precaution.

My big fear is that Melky would have to go on the DL and Brian Cashman would decide to rush up Austin Jackson. He is the Yankees' best prospect and doing very well at Scranton, but let's not make the same mistakes that were made with Cabrera and Bernie Williams. Let Jackson get a full season under his belt at Triple A. Let him develop. Performing well for two months at Triple A does not make him ready for the majors yet. Give him time.

Also, Brian Bruney saw Dr. James Andrews and the news was good. Andrews confirmed the diagnosis of a strained flexor muscle. All the ligaments are structurally sound. So it's back to step one for Bruney with rehab and a new throwing program. I hope this time he'll be honest with the Yankees and tell them if he still feels pain. Don't rush back, just get back fully healthy and ready to help this team win.

Runners In Scoring Position
Wednesday
3-for-9 (.333)
Season
118-for-425 (.278)

Up Next
Friday at Cleveland, 7:05 p.m., YES
Andy Pettitte (4-1, 4.30) vs. Cliff Lee (2-5, 3.04)
Lee dominated the Yankees the first time he faced them and has been pitching better. He will be tough again, but the Indians just aren't a very good team right now. The Yankee are going to need to grind out at-bats, spoil pitches and get Lee out of the game early so they can pound on the Indians' weak bullpen.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New Features

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Hole Digging

Watching Jon Lester these days is like going on a date with a beautiful girl, having a wonderful time and then, over a lovely dinner, she casually mentions that she is a Nazi. And all those good feelings go right out the door and no matter what happened before, the night is ruined.


Last night, Jon Lester gave up only two hits and no runs going into the fifth inning. By the time he got out of it, the Twins had tacked on four more hits and five runs. The end result was a 5-2 loss to the Twins that was mitigated only by the fact that New York and Toronto also lost. The "Big Inning O' Doom" is starting to be an issue with Lester. In that 5-4 loss to Seattle on May 15, he gave up four runs in the sixth. In the 14-5 loss to Tampa on May 9, he gave up six runs in the fifth inning. And now we have this debacle. Lester has given up 4+ runs in a single inning in three of his last four starts. That, my friends, is a problem.


When you put your team in a hole like that, it places a lot of pressure on the lineup to make up ground. So they start swinging harder or trying to hit a pitch they may normally take. The Sox less than half their hit total after that fifth inning and didn't draw a single walk after that point. They were lucky to get that second run off a double play ball, and the only reason it happened was because Ellsbury is so damned fast.


Lester is struggling this year. In part, it is likely due to his heavy workload last year (first time at 200+ innings) and the effect that has had on his arm. He has never thrown that many innings in a single season in the majors or the minors. But I think his mental toughness has taken a bit of a beating. He needs to remember that no matter what is going on in the game, he is still the same pitcher that went 16-6 last year and threw a no-hitter. Once he does that, and his gets conditioned to throwing these kinds of innings, Lester should be just fine.


One encouraging thing to take away from last night's game was the continued solid work of the bullpen. Callup Daniel Bard threw one shutout inning and Takashi Saito struck out the side in the eighth. Provided the starting pitcher doesn't bury the team, that kind of work will pay off in wins for Boston down the road. There have been rumors about Bard being trade bait. I don't think that's likely; not only is he a good bullpen arm, but the Sox need him as leverage against Papelbon in a couple of years when Paps goes into free agency.


The batting was okay. Once again Ellsbury and Pedroia carried their share of the load; Ellsbury scored two runs and Mighty Mite drove in a run. But Jason Bay went 0-4, and that matters. In the month of May, the Red Sox are 1-8 when Jason Bay goes hitless. Conversely, they are 12-3 when he gets a hit. In other words, as Jason Bay goes, so go the Red Sox. And that is only going to increase his bargaining power when it is time to sign him to a new contract. But for now, it means that he is the engine that drives this offense. Until Papi gets his groove back, it's in Bay we trust.


Tonight we get Daisuke matching up against Kevin Slowey. Once again, the Twins pitcher has the better record. Slowey is 6-1 this year, although he does give up his fair share of hits. But he gets results; last year Slowey went 12-11 with a 3.99 ERA, three complete games and two shutouts. So even though you may not have heard of him before now, don't think the Sox have an easy time tonight. Unless Daisuke pitches like its 2008 and the lineup can tag Slowey early, it could be another long night for Boston.

Joba Less Than Optimal

Someone explain to me why the Yankees were better off having Joba Chamberlain at less than 100 percent start that game.

Joba, coming off an outing in which he left after two-thirds of an inning after being struck on the right knee by a line drive, allowed three runs on four hits in four laborious innings in a 7-3 loss to the Rangers in Arlington, Texas, Tuesday.

Chamberlain walked four, struck out five and threw 46 of 84 pitches for strikes.

But it was clear from the start that he wasn't 100 percent and was still being affected by the shot he took off the right knee.

Now, Joba said after the game that his knee was fine and Joe Girardi said Joba wasn't favoring the knee, but we heard similar things about Chien-Ming Wang's ankle earlier this season. So forgive me if I find the Yankees' word about injuries to be less than credible. We have to trust our eyes.

Joba's fastball was consistently at 89-91 mpg, occasionally hitting 92-93 mph. He normally he is at 93-94 mph, topping out at 95-96. Further, he wasn't sharp with his command. He struggled to put hitters away and by the second inning, he had thrown more than 50 pitches.

And I have to believe that his struggles were caused by that bruise on his right knee. Joba generates his power and control from his legs, particularly his right leg, which he uses to push off the rubber and drive the ball to the plate.

But when that leg is compromised, such as by a bruised knee, Joba just can't generate his normal power and control, making him less effective.

So here's the $1 million question: Why not let Wang make this start instead and either push back Joba to Friday or skip him this time through with the day off Thursday? Wang was rushed back to the majors and set up to be the emergency starter if Joba couldn't go anyway, and he's scheduled to start Friday now as it is. So why not buy Joba the extra time to get fully healthy, especially when there are six starters on the roster?

Now, it's not a given Wang would have been effective. Heck, he might have been awful, but he is back in the majors and is going to pitch. Swapping Joba and Wang should not be a big deal.

But let's say for argument's sake, Wang isn't himself yet. Well, that means the Yankees very well might have two short outings by their starters this week when they might have been able to keep it at just one by pushing back Joba.

Still, Joba managed to limit the damage and the Yankees did rally to tie at 3 on Mark Teixeira's homer in the fifth and an RBI double by Hideki Matsui and RBI single by Francisco Cervelli in the sixth.

However, Alfredo Aceves finally had a bad outing, allowing three runs in 2+ innings to take the loss.

Meanwhile, the offense that was so devastating Monday couldn't keep it up. It pounded out 12 hits, stole five bases and had runners on in every inning against Rangers starter Kevin Millwood, but produced just three runs, going 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position and stranding 12.

And then there's Melky Cabrera, who injured his right shoulder running into the wall on Ian Kinsler's leadoff triple in the first. The Yankees are calling it a strain and have an MRI scheduled for Wednesday. I hope the results will be negative and Melky can return in short order. He's just become that important.

Runners In Scoring Position
Tuesday
2-for-12 (.167)
Season
115-for-416 (.276)

Up Next
Wednesday at Rangers, 8:05 p.m., YES
A.J. Burnett (2-2, 5.28 ERA) vs. Derek Holland (1-1, 4.82)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lucky Penny

Theo Epstein made many, many good moves in the off-season. Adding Saito and Ramirez to the bullpen was big. Rocco Baldelli has been a decent pickup. But the one that is paying the biggest dividends right now is the signing of Brad Penny.


Yesterday Penny went 5.1 innings and gave up three runs while striking out seven and walking none en route to a 6-5 Boston win over the Twins. If it wasn't for a vicious sinus infection that had Penny blowing chunks between innings, he could have gone at least six for another quality start. But for now he'll just have to settle for his fifth win of the year and the 99th of his career.


Penny looked great. His fastball was hitting 96 and he was making his pitches all day. His control was fantastic. He just wore out because of his illness. Still, he left the Sox in a perfect position to win with a 6-3 lead.


That was thanks to an incredibly productive top of the order. Hitters 1-6 all had at least two hits on the day. Tito gave Lowell a day off from the field and moved him to DH for the mega-slumping Ortiz, shifted Youk to third and slotted Jeff Bailey to first. The three of them combined for four RBI and two runs scored. But the big difference was at the top of the order. Ellsbury (now riding a 20-game hitting streak) and Pedroia scored three runs combined. And that had a lot to do with Youk hitting third, Bay hitting clean-up and Lowell in the five-spot.


Let's be blunt here; the Boston lineup looked a lot more dangerous and productive with Ortiz riding the bench. The Sox hammered out sixteen hits and the first six guys hit a combined .500 yesterday. Yes, part of that is because of Liriano having a remarkable slump this year. But it's also, in part, because there was no one to pitch around in that group. When the lineup is clicking it makes Boston's pitching that much better.


And it needed to be yesterday because Papelbon almost let the game escape. It seems that whenever I mention he is slipping, Paps picks it up. And when I mention how well he is doing, he starts to falter. So I'll mention here that he is beginning to falter again and then never say another word about the guy*.


That two-run homer was brutal and almost undid a great team effort. Add that to his recent blown save and, once again, Paps seems to be struggling a bit. I don't think he'll tank; he's still one of the best in the game today. But he has these moments where the effort and the result are completely disconnected. Luckily for Paps, Ramirez and Okajima were lights-out awesome in relief yesterday. A combined 2.2 innings of work with no hits, no runs and two strikeouts for the pair preserved the 6-3 lead going into the ninth. There is not a better bullpen in the league right now. I would put Boston's relief corps up against anyone this year.


But back to Penny for a moment. The Sox now find themselves in an interesting spot, as noted in the Boston Globe this morning:


The Sox are an imperfect first-place team, but they are in a perfect situation. They have resources, a deep farm system, chips to trade, and a lineup that's good enough, even without David Ortiz hitting.


They are in first place even with no reliable shortstop. They have so much starting pitching that other teams are actually awaiting a decision on Penny, knowing that sometime after mid-June John Smoltz will be ready.


Ah, did you forget about Smoltz? He's up for a AA rehab assignment in Portland this Thursday. And the Sox all but promised him a slot in the rotation.


And then there is Clay Buchholz. He has, very quietly, been decimating Triple-A batters down in The Bucket to the tune of 3-0 with a 1.30 ERA, 49 strikeouts and just 12 walks. His last game was a complete game one-hitter. He's pushing for a callup as well, although the more seasoning he gets in AAA, so much the better in my opinion.


And this makes Penny a very valuable commodity. I don't know what you trade him for, but a couple of more wins and his value will boost even higher. The Sox could even been in the position to trade him for more high-end prospects if there was no ready target in the majors, which would be a rarity for a competitive team. All this and first place in the AL East to boot. Can't complain too much if you are a Sox fan.


Tonight is game two of the four-game visit to Minny. Jon Lester goes up against Nick Blackburn. Blackburn was the top prospect in the Twins' system before his debut in 2008, but is best known for Bobby Abreu lacing a line drive off his face last year and not missing any time. Not as tough as beating cancer and tossing a no-hitter, but not bad either. Blackburn has the better record of the two this year, but Lester threw a solid game against the Jays last time out and seems to be finding his groove. It should be a good game.


-----------


* We all know this is a lie.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Hughes Dilemma

Phil Hughes didn't want to come out of the game.

He was angry. He had every right to be. He pitched a whale of a game. He even refused to shake Joe Girardi's hand. I love that competitiveness, that fight.

But at the same time, we saw exactly why the Yankees are being so careful with their 22-year-old righthander, trying to avoid the same fate that has fallen so other young phenoms, such as Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.

Hughes allowed three hits over eight shutout innings and Alex Rodriguez went 5-for-5 to lead a 19-hit attack as the Yankees blasted the Rangers 11-1 at Arlington, Texas, Monday. In the process, Hughes is forcing the Yankees to make a tough decision -- a situation they were hoping to find themselves in when they called up Hughes.

Hughes was coming off a much improved outing in which he struck out nine, but allowed three runs on two homers over five innings.

Monday was a major step forward.

He commanded his lively fastball, topping out at 93 mph, and effectively mixed in his big curveball, slider and cutter. He threw 65 of 101 pitches for strikes, walking one and striking out six.

And we watched him grow up before our eyes in the second inning -- and he did it against one of the top offenses in the game.

The Yankees had a 2-0 lead, when Hughes found himself in a jam.

Nelson Cruz led off with a double, Hank Blalock was hit by a pitch, Hughes fell behind Marlon Byrd 3-and-0 and game was at a crossroads. One mistake and the Rangers would seize control.

But after a visit from pitching coach Dave Eiland, Hughes went to work, overpowering Byrd with a cutter and two fastballs for a strikeout. Chris Davis and Taylor Teagarden also followed with strikeouts and just like that, Hughes was in command.

The Rangers got only three more men on base against Hughes the rest of the way and never threatened. Meanwhile the Yankees' offense poured it on, allowing Hughes to attack hitters and cruise.

Rodriguez led an onslaught that did not launch a homer, but was nonetheless devastating. The Yankees went 9-for-20 with runners in scoring position, stranding 10. A-Rod had two doubles, four RBI and raised his average to .259.

Mark Teixeira went 2-for-3 with two RBI and has his average up to .273 and the slumping Nick Swisher went 1-for-4, but had three RBI.

It was a great way to open a seven-game trip, but now the Yankees have to figure out what to do with their rotation. Hughes is maturing and developing as a major league pitcher, but Chien-Ming Wang is back and is expected to start Friday.

Meanwhile, the Yankees placed Brian Bruney back on the DL because of his elbow and are sending him to see Dr. James Andrews. They called up David Robertson to take Bruney's spot on the roster.

That leaves the Yankees with six starters and a bullpen that is once again suspect. So what should the Yankees do?

After his last start, I thought Hughes should stay in the majors and pitch out of the bullpen, but after what I saw Monday, I think Hughes needs to stay in the rotation. One game does not make a season or a career, but Hughes deserves a longer shot to prove he can pitch like this consistently.

Wang, however, has improved from his disastrous start to the season, but is not quite all the way back. He is healthier and throwing with more velocity, but his release point is still off and his pitches aren't diving consistently.

I think the plan -- for now -- should be for Wang to work out of the bullpen as the long man. Get him straighten out in this role before committing to trotting him out every fifth-day. Eventually, both Joba Chamberlain and Hughes are going to run up against their innings limits and Wang will regain his spot in the rotation, but in the meantime, there is no need to force him in there.

As for the bullpen, the seventh- and eighth-inning roles should be split between Phil Coke and Alfredo Aceves. Both are young and inexperienced, but aside from Bruney, they have been the most effective guys leading up to Mariano Rivera. Jose Veras has been better of late, but it's impossible to trust him.

It's a tough decision Brian Cashman and Girardi are facing, but at least there are options and hope that the Yankees will be able to cover up that sizable hole in the bullpen for the short-term.

In Case You Haven't Noticed...
The AL East is shaping up to be a two-team race: Yankees and Red Sox ... again. The Blue Jays have come crashing back to earth and are now in third, a half-game behind the Yankees and 1-1/2 behind the Sox. Expect that freefall to continue. They just aren't that good.

Meanwhile, the Rays are being decimated by the injuries they managed to avoid last season.

Akinori Iwamura, Scott Kazmir and Troy Percival are all on the DL. The Rays called up top prospect David Price to replace Kazmir. He made his season debut Monday, allowing two runs on four hits and five walks in 3-1/3 innings. He struck out six, but threw 100 pitches. The question that Rays are facing is whether they are better off having Price replace Percival instead of Kazmir.

The Rays had built a 10-0 lead against the Indians, but lost 11-10, allowing seven runs in the ninth. Their suspect bullpen is in worse shape than the Yankees'. They have Jason Insringhausen, but it does not appear he has closer stuff anymore. Price, however, was impressive coming out of the bullpen last year in the playoffs, closing out several games.

It's a question the Rays are going to have to figure out quickly before their season goes up in flames.

Runners In Scoring Position
Monday
9-for-20 (.450)
Season
113-for-404 (.280)

Up Next
Tuesday at Rangers, 8:05 p.m., Local TV (check your listings)
Chamberlain (2-1, 3.70 ERA) vs. Kevin Millwood (4-4, 3.12)

Joba is coming off an abbreviated outing, leaving after two-thirds of an inning after being struck on the knee with a shot back through the box. The first concern is that Joba is 100 percent healthy. Then the focus is on delivering a strong outing of at least seven innings.

Stumbling Into First

If you had told me the Sox would drop two of three to the Triple-A team posing as the Mets and still end up in first place, I'd have asked what you were smoking and where I could buy some.


This was a bizarre series, with the Sox losing two games they should have won and winning a game they should have lost. And yet they end up ahead of the Jays by a half game and the Yankees are still in third place. Aviv should be feeling better tonight, and yet...


This series reaffirmed my hatred for the Mets, who always seem to give Boston fits when they come to Fenway. The next time I seem them in Boston it will be too soon.


But the big story coming out of this series is the news that David Ortiz may be moved in the lineup. That homer against the Jays is a distant memory. In three games with the Mets, Ortiz went 0-12 with 16 men left on base. He is now batting .195 and has become usless in the lineup. If you go to boston.com, readers in a recent poll voted for him to be moved to seventh in the lineup. Down to the final third? Wow... And the thing is, I can't exactly disagree with them. I just think the solution is wrong.


I've gone over it many times. Ortiz is just lost right now. And I don't think moving him somewhere else in the lineup will help. I think it is time for Ortiz to go on the DL with an "injury" and to hand the DH role over to Chris Carter. What, is he going to do any worse? How the hell can you do worse than a sub-.200 batting average? I'd wager that Carter would have more homeruns under his belt inside a week.


On the upside, the bullpen performed very well over the three games with the glaring exception of Papelbon's blown save on Saturday. Today Manny Delcarmen threw two great innings to hold the win for Tim Wakefield. Delcarmen now has an ERA of 0.86 and has to be feeling good not only because of that, but because the Sox turned down a deal that would have sent him to the Nationals for Nick Johnson. And Saito threw a solid ninth inning. Even with the two losses in the series, the Boston bullpen looked good.


Jacoby Ellsbury now has a 19-game hitting streak going. In all three games he got just one hit, which dropped his average below .300. But he's still getting it done, although an extra-hit game or two wouldn't hurt.


And no, I am not talking about Julio Lugo. Except to say that I am much happier with Nick Green at shortstop. Who just happened to knock in the winning run. And didn't cost the Sox the game. I'm just saying...


Bottom line is that it was a less-than-stellar series for the Sox but they somehow ended up in first place. I don't think I want to test this formula for success too many times. But I'll take it and be thankful.


And now it's back on the road, where the Sox have been pretty mediocre. They have three three-game sets with Minny, Toronto and Detroit. That's a good set for Boston and I would like to think they can go at least 5-4. Of course, I was hoping they'd go .500 out West and we know how that turned out.


Oh, and a big thanks to Ian for his guest-blogging while the Mets were in town. But you brought some strong juju with you, Ian. Thank God you tangle with the Yankees next time.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Not Quite Enough Magic

For a little while, it looked like the Yankees would do it again.

Alas, they ran out of magic.

Melky Cabrera's RBI single tied the score in the ninth, but Mark Teixeira grounded into a double play to thwart a potential winning rally in the 10th, and Brett Tomko allowed Carlos Ruiz's RBI double in the 11th as the Yankees lost to the Phillies 4-3 Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees finished their homestand at 8-2 with four walk-off wins. It looked like a fifth walk-off was in their grasp.

CC Sabathia had a fourth consecutive solid start (3-0, 1.69 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 24 Ks, 32 IP), allowing three runs on nine hits in eight innings. He struck out four, walked none and threw 75 of 11o pitches for strikes. But when he left the game, he was trailing, 3-2.

Of course the Yankees were confident heading into the ninth. Right now they believe if the game is close, they will rally and win. Sure enough, they did rally.

Robinson Cano led off against struggling closer Brad Lidge with a single and pinch runner Ramiro Pena stole second. Cabrera then hit a topper through the middle that eluded the reach of shortstop Jimmy Rollins and went into center, easily scoring Pena. But that's all the Yankees would get.

Hideki Matsui followed with a strikeout, and after Cabrera stole second, pinch hitter Nick Swisher grounded out to second and Brett Garnder grounded out to first.

Still the Yankees were in good shape. Jose Veras pitched a scoreless ninth and the bullpen was nearly back to full strength with Alfredo Aceves and Chien-Ming Wang available after missing the last two games.

Meanwhile, the Phillies were in a hole. Starter Cole Hamels pitched well, allowing two runs on eight hits, but he had to leave after the sixth after throwing 109 pitches, 68 strikes. That forced manager Jerry Manuel to use Chad Durbin, Scott Eyre, Ryan Madson and Lidge to get through the ninth, leaving Clay Condrey, Chan Ho Park and Jack Taschner for extras.

It looked like it would be only a matter of time before the Yankees would pull this one out.

And they had a great chance in the 10th against Condrey. Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon led off with singles, putting runners on first and second for the heart of the order. Teixeira then did the worst thing possible, hitting in to a 4-6-3 double play. Even a strikeout would have been better. At least the Phillies would have been forced to pitch to Alex Rodriguez with runners still at first and second instead of walking him intentionally. Pena ended the inning by lofting an easy fly to center.

Deflating, yes. But you figured the Yankees should still be in good shape.

But instead of turning to Aceves, Joe Girardi went to Tomko. Now, Tomko hadn't pitched in five games -- partially because he had bronchitis -- and needed some work, but this was not yet the spot for him.

Ace has been a revelation in the bullpen and he has been terrific when called on in spots just like this. He was the next most reliable option once Rivera was used, and he would have given some the Yankees some length while the offense waited out the Phillies' bullpen. Condrey likely would not have pitched beyond the 11th, and Taschner and Park don't even scare a rec league team.

Tomko, Wang and Phil Coke all could have come on after Aceves if the game continued that long, but this was the spot for Ace and no one else.

But Tomko was the call and after getting the first two outs, he pitched carefully around Chase Utley, ultimately walking him. Utley then stole second and scored on Ruiz's double. And with that the Yankees' magic had run out, going down in order against Condrey in the bottom half.

And as disappointing as the ending was, it's not like that was the ninth and 10 were the Yankees' only opportunities. They went 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position and left eight on base.

The biggest missed chance was in the second. After the Phillies scored two in the top half, the Yankees had a shot to tie up in the bottom half. Francisco Cervelli led off with a double and after Gardner lined out and Jeter struck out, Damon doubled in Cervelli. Teixeira, who homered leading off the sixth, followed with a single to left. Damon tried to score, but Jayson Werth made a perfect throw home and Ruiz blocked the plate and tagged out Damon.

It was a good send. The only way the Phillies were going to get Damon was to execute perfectly, and they. Tip your hat to them.

But let's not get too disappointed in this loss. It was a great homestand and by winning 10 of their last 12, the Yankees are in third in the AL East, a game behind the Red Sox, and half-game behind the Jays.

Now the challenge is continue this stretch of good play on a six-game trip that takes them to Texas and Cleveland.

Runners In Scoring Position
Sunday
3-for-12 (.250)
Season
104-for-384 (.271)

Up Next
Monday at Rangers, 2:05 p.m., YES
Phil Hughes (2-2, 7.06 ERA) vs. Matt Harrison (4-3, 4.71)

Hughes has steadily improved over his last three starts, but he need to put forth a better effort than three runs over five innings. He need to take another step in his development.

O My, and Oh No!

Angry yet, Sox fans?

Not in my wildest dreams did I believe the Mets would be going into today's game with a chance for a Fenway sweep. Somehow I don't think Omir Santos' name will bother Bostonians as much as Bucky "bleeping" Dent or Aaron "bleeping" Boone, but that loss has to be frustrating.


Until Santos' line drive skimmed the top of the Green Monster, Red Sox pitching had dominated the inferior Met lineup. Beckett and Papelbum (from my paper's infamous back page) even made red-hot David Wright seem overmatched all night.

Not once throughout the night as Beckett kept rolling did I think the Mets were winning this game. Yet, Mike Pelfrey, after a shaky first inning, pitched his best game of the season, and, as I intimated, kept the ball in the park. Huge job by Pelfrey! I was amazed to be down just 2-1 heading into the top of the ninth.

Emotions of the top of the ninth: Gary Sheffield -- and he didn't need BALCO to do this -- showed his professionalism by working the walk to lead off the inning. Then Papelbum mows down Wright and Jeremy Reed. If anyone believes Jeremy Reed belongs in the Met lineup, let alone batting 6th, they're crazy. As Santos stepped to the plate, I mentioned to a colleague that I had a lot more faith in Santos than Reed. My faith was rewarded on the first pitch. What a line shot. At first I thought It was just going to hit the upper third of the Monster, but boy did it carry.

Good job all around by the umpires. On the field, it had to be difficult to determine it was a home run. Thankfully MLB has replay for such home run disputes. And, they rightfully changed the call to a home run and a 3-2 Met lead. I have no problem with Terry Francona going out to discuss it. He said after the game he pretty much knew it was a home run, but he had to go out anyway.

It brought me back to Monday night when Ryan Church missed third base on his way to scoring the go-ahead run in extra innings. His Marvelous Marv Throneberry-like play drew ire from manager Jerry Manuel, but only at him. I wish Manuel, even though third base coach Razor Shines assured him Church missed the bag, had gone out to argue. How do you not argue your player being called out for missing third base. You almost have to argue it on principle for the rarity of it. Just give a few minutes of debate like Francona did on Santos' HR last night.

I must say the best Met win of the season thus far was tempered by revelations that closer K-Rod missed the game with severe back spasms. Thankfully, I learned a short time ago, he's back with the team and feeling much better. If not for that, this K-Rod mention would be higher in the blog post.

Yet, J.J. Putz was a bit scary last night in getting the save last night. He threw harder than he had all season, but his pitches were flat were flat and the Sox pounced on them. And the Met defense saved -- I can't believe I'm saying this -- Putz as much as he earned the save. Incredible infield defense all around. All four infielders -- Daniel Murphy, Luis Castillo, Ramon Martinez (cough) and David Wright -- contributed beautifully in the ninth to preserve the win.

If the Sox have anything going for them today, it is that the Mets just seem to lack a killer instinct of closing out big series sweeps. If the Sox were up 2-0 right now, I'd be more inclined to think they'd sweep. But a Met fan can believe, can't he?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Another Cream Pie For Melky

It's getting to the point where there is no one the Yankees would rather have at the plate with a chance to win the game than Melky Cabrera.

Alex Rodriguez hit a two-homer and Cabrera singled in Robinson Cano with the winner in the ninth off Brad Lidge to rally the Yankees to a 5-4 victory Saturday over the Phillies at Yankee Stadium. It was the Yankees' major-league leading 17th come-from-behind victory and ninth win in their last at-bat.

They have four walk-off wins in the last nine games and six on the season. Cabrera has the winning hit in three of those games, the most walk-offs by a Yankee since Claudell Washington had four in 1988 ... and it's not even Memorial Day.

It's been quite a season so far for Cabrera, who began the year as the fifth outfielder behind Nick Swisher. All Cabrera has done is seize the center field job back from Brett Gardner and hit .317 with five homers, 20 runs, 19 RBI and a .853 OPS.

He's also developed a knack for coming through in the clutch.

His two-run homer of Dan Giese in the 14th gave the Yankees a 9-7 victory over the A's on April 14. Melky then lifted the Yankees to a 5-4 win over the Twins on May 15 with a two-run single off closer Joe Nathan.

His winner Saturday was just as sweet.

The Yankees' offense had been quiet all game, scratching out one run in the second and scoring another on Derek Jeter's homer in the sixth. And with Lidge coming on to protect a 4-2 lead, the outlook wasn't good.

Lidge was coming off a season in which he was perfect in this 41 save opportunities, 48 including the postseason. Even though he had already blown two chances this season, he's still tough.

Johnny Damon led off with a walk and stole second. After Mark Teixeira struck out, Rodriguez stepped to the plate for the biggest at-bat of the game.

He battled Lidge in a brilliant at-bat, falling behind 0-and-2 before working the count to 3-and-2. He then cut down on his swing and went the other way with a 94 mph fastball, shooting it over the wall in right to tie the score at 4.

We've seen A-Rod too often try to pull a pitch in big spots. It was great to see him take advantage of the short porch. And while he is still searching for his hitting groove, his average up to .204 since returning to the lineup May 8, his power stroke has been just fine with seven of his 10 hits going for homers. He's also come up with several big, late homers, including a walk-off against the Twins a week ago.

But with Alfredo Aceves, Chien-Ming Wang and Brian Bruney unavailable in the bullpen, the Yankees could not afford to let this game go deep into extra innings. The quicker they could end it, the better.

Cano followed with a single and stole second, setting up Cabrera, who laced a liner to right-center.

What's been particularly impressive with Cabrera in these situations has been his approach. He hasn't tried to do too much, simply looking for a pitch he could handle and drive. His winners against the Twins and and Phillies were both hit to the opposite field.

It was quite a turnaround for the offense, which did little against J.A. Happ, who was making his first start of the season.

They Yankees manufactured a run in the second when Cano doubled, went to third on a sacrifice by Cabrera and scored on a ground out by Nick Swisher to tie the score at 1.

Swisher has struggled mightily at Yankee Stadium, but give him a lot of credit for recognizing this, simply executing the fundamentals in this spot and finding a way to help the team win. Runner on third, less than two outs, just make sure to get the run home, especially when it's that early in the game.

Happ ended up pitching six innings, allowing two runs on four hits with four strikeouts. He threw 50 of 75 pitches for strikes and was on his way to a win over Andy Pettitte.

Pettitte wasn't great, but not terrible either. He made two mistakes that were turned into homers, one by Raul Ibanez in the second and a three-run blast by John Mayberry Jr., who made his major league debut.

Still Pettitte kept the Yankees in the game and gave them length, which they desperately needed. He allowed four runs on five hits and two walks in seven innings. The short bullpen meant only Brett Tomko, Mariano Rivera, Phil Coke and Jose Veras were available for the rest of the game.

Coke allowed one hit over 1-2/3 innings, throwing only 9 of 21 pitches for strikes. Veras got the last out of the ninth and was credited with the win.

It was a sweet way to win, especially after the Yankees' nine-game winning streak was snapped Friday. But the day only got better.

Omir Santos hit a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth off Jonathan Papelbon and the Mets beat the Red Sox, 3-2. It was glorious and I'm looking forward to Dave's and Ian's posts on this one.

The Yankees are now tied with the Sox for second in the AL East, a half-game behind the Blue Jays.

Dave, buckle up, bro, it's going to be a wild summer.

Runners In Scoring Position
Saturday
2-for-6 (.333)
Season
101-for-372 (.272)

Up Next
Sunday vs. Phillies, 1:05 p.m., YES
Cole Hammels (2-2, 4.95 ERA) vs. CC Sabathia (4-3, 3.43)

Sabathia is coming off three straight excellent starts and the Yankees need him to continue that roll.

Take a bow, Johan

OK, so the 5-3 final came close to the 4-3 score I predicted (I did think the Sox would have the 4 runs). However, I didn't expect the Mets defense to try to giftwrap this one for the Sox like they had in every game in L.A.

Johan the Magnigicent was just that. He gave up the one homer ball to Varitek, but he was fantastic. Wild card Gary Sheffield hit a homer.

Jose Reyes isn't playing again tonight. And Ramon Martinez is at shortstop again. Needless to say, Julio Lugo is not in the Sox lineup tonight to try and match fielding nitwits with Martinez. At least Martinez helped Santana with an RBI.

My pessimism remains strong tonight, however. Look at the Met lineup:

1b Daniel Murphy
rf Angel Pagan
dh Carlos Beltran
lf Gary Sheffield
3b David Wright
cf Jeremy Reed
c Omir Santos
ss Ramon Martinez
2b Luis Castillo

If the Mets somehow get production out of 6-7-8-9 again like they did last night, they'll win, but I doubt 3-4-5 will be able to do it on their own against Beckett. Murphy leading off still boggles my mind.

The Mets' walking wounded now includes Carlos Beltran (knee) and Ryan Church (hammy). Church won't play tonight, and gold glover Beltran cedes center to Reed. Oh, the joy.

Here's looking at plenty of ground balls from Pelfrey, but nowhere near shortstop or first base.

A side note: Kevin Youkilis says he was trying to joke with Johan about being hit by the pitch Friday night. I hope this really is the case because I'm getting a little sick of Youkilis whining about being hit or close to being hit.
As a Met fan, I'm predestined to loathe the Yankees, but his anger towards Joba is a little overdone. Part of what makes him such a feared hitter is how he crowds the plate and dives in (kind of like Derek Jeter). If that's what makes you successful, you can't cry about pitches hitting you in the arm or coming close. If you don't want to be hit, don't dive into the plate. Youkilis is one of those players you love to have on your team, but can't stand him as an opponent. Can I get a little Paul O'Neill?

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Loud Thud

We knew it was going to end, but did it really have to end like that? Ugh!

A.J. Burnett allowed a homer to Jimmy Rollins on the first pitch he threw, the offense couldn't muster an attack against Brett Myers, and the Yankees lost to the Phillies 7-3 Friday night at Yankee Stadium, snapping their nine-game winning streak.

We knew this would be a tough one even before the game started. Chien-Ming Wang's third rehab start with Scranton was aborted. He was needed back in the majors to reinforce the thin bullpen.

After pitching 8-1/3 innings because of Joba Chamberlain's injury in Thursday's victory, the bullpen was left short. Alfredo Aceves was unavailable, pitching 3-1/3 innings Thursday after two on Wednesday. Brian Bruney's elbow is still bothering him, though an MRI came up negative. Phil Coke has been battling some soreness and Mariano Rivera has pitched 2-1/3 innings over the last two days.

That left Brett Tomko as the only rested reliever. So down went Jonathan Albaladejo.

That meant the Yankees needed a big start from Burnett and for the offense to continue its stellar production.

They got neither.

Burnett continued to make Yankee fans wonder what happened to the pitcher who was murder on the Yankees and Red Sox last season before signing that big, free agent contract. Yes, Burnett's had some strong starts, but has not had the consistency needed for a legit No. 2. Of his last six outings, just two have qualified as quality starts. He hasn't earned a victory since April 14.

Friday he allowed five runs on eight hits and two walks. He struck out seven and allowed three homers, including a two-run shot to Carlos Ruiz in the second and a two-run homer to Jayson Werth in the fifth.

It was a disappointing performance on a night when the Yankees needed at least seven stellar innings. What's more disappointing is that Burnett was coming off an outing in which he allowed two runs in 6-2/3 innings and seemed to have turned a corner.

That forced the Yankees to turn to Wang for the final three innings. We saw some positives, but some of the problems that plagued him through those miserable first three starts of the season remained.

Wang allowed two runs -- one on a homer -- six hits and one walk. He struck out two and threw 29 of 51 pitches for strikes. His ERA actually dropped from 34.50 to 25.00 -- and indication of just how bad those first three starts were.

We saw good velocity on Wang's fastball, hitting 94 mph consistently, an improvement over the 88-92 mph fastball he had at the start of the season.

We saw some good sinking action on his sinker. It didn't flatten like it had at the beginning of the season.

Abd while most of the hits were on grounders (a good sign), what we didn't see was the ability to keep the ball down in the zone consistently, resulting in the homer to Raul Ibanez.

Right now the Yankees are saying Wang could start Tuesday if Joba can't go, or Wednesday or Friday if Joba is healthy. It would have been nice if Wang could have had the third rehab start, but I don't think the Yankees should rush him back into the rotation just yet. Pitching out of the bullpen just might be the best way to rebuild his confidence, while allowing him rediscover his consistency.

He showed us enough Friday to make us believe he can again become that starter who won 19 games each in 2006 and '07, but he's not there yet. Give him a little more time.

Meanwhile, the offense produced little against Myers, getting a runner into scoring position just once. The three runs were on homers by Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira. No where near enough on this night.

We knew the win streak was going to end. It just would have been nice if it had happened in a crisp, well-played game.

Runners In Scoring Position
Friday
0-for-1 (.000)
Season
99-for-366 (.270)

Up Next
Saturday vs. Phillies, 4:10 p.m., FOX
J.A. Happ (2-0, 2.49 ERA) vs. Andy Pettitte (4-1, 4.18)

Just a gut feeling: expect a slugfest.

Bye-Bye Blue Jays

There is nothing quite like a clean sweep of a division leader to boost the spirits. And after yesterday's 5-1 torching of the Jays, Boston finds themselves only a half-game out of first. Thank God they're at Fenway, where they have an AL-leading 16-4 record. The road record...the less said about 9-12, the better.


The big news was Jon Lester bouncing back from two dreadful performances to give Boston 6 1/3 strong innings. He scattered eight hits and gave up just one run off a single in the seventh. That's the fifth quality start in a row for Boston, and they have gone 4-1 in those games. That performance also made life easier on the bullpen. Ramirez came out for his usual stellar work; 1.2 innings, two hits, no runs and two strikeouts. Then Paps finished the ninth with just one hit allowed. Both these guys have ERAs under 1.00, and Ramirez has a WHIP under 1.00 as well. This pairing is a devestating endgame combo for Boston.


The hitting wasn't atrocious, but the Sox were outhit 11-7 by the Jays. Luckilly, the Sox made those hits count. The difference maker was a homer from, you guessed it, Jason Bay. His two-run shot in the first put the Sox up 3-0 and basically settled the game right there. It was also his only hit of the night. Interesting note; Bay has yet to hit a solo shot this year, which explains why he is second in the AL with 44 RBI. Hell, if he maintains this production then Bay is looking like the MVP for 2009. He tracks right now for 51 homers, 174 RBI and 170 runs scored over the course of the season. That likely won't happen, but provided Bay stays injury-free (*knocking on big pieces of wood*) he should eclipse the 30 homer, 100 RBI plateau we all assigned him.


Youk got it done as well, going 1-3 with an RBI single. He is still batting over .400 (.402) right now and looking every bit as good as he did last year. And Ellsbury extended his hitting streak to 16 games while scoring two runs and stealing a base. Ellsbury is getting it done in the leadoff position now. We need a nickname for him but nothing immediately pops in my mind. I mean, I have nothing.


And now we come to interleague play and a visit from the Mets. I'll let you in on a secret; I hate the Mets. Not a Yankees-level kind of hate. And I'd want the Mets to run the table on every other AL team they play. But I freaking hate the Mets. Not only because of 1986, but because they beat the Sox 1-0 in a game I took my dad to on June 6, 1998. Wakefield pitched eight innings and gave up just one hit and one walk. So how did the Mets score? On the most B.S. balk call in the history of the sport. Terry Craft was, and is, a moron for making that call.


Anyway, we get to see the former Twin Johan Santana go up against the re-habbed Daisuke. This could be...interesting. Santana has been average against the Sox over his career. And Daisuke can either baffle a team or give away runs like he was getting paid for it. We could see a tight game or a run-fest. But it should be a good game. I think where Boston has the edge is in the bullpen. Sure, the Mets have F-Rod and Putz. But after that the pen gets light for them. Boston's depth could be the deciding factor in this game, and the series. That and the fact that the Mets' apparently play defense like my son's T-Ball team.

With Interleague Upon Us, A Fresh Voice

With the 2009 version of interleague play upon us, we have decided that we ought to pay attention to that other team in New York.

It is with great pleasure that we introduce Ian as our guest Mets blogger.

Ian, like us, is a Connecticut native, but he spurned UConn for Boston College. Still, we can forgive him for that.

He is a journalist with more than 15 years experience working at newspapers in Connecticut and New York.

He also is as knowledgeable a Mets fan as there is. He'd probably be able to tell you Bobby Valentine's hat size if you asked.

We look forward to Ian's insights and analysis as he tries to make a strong argument as to why his NL team will be able to keep pace with the big boys from the AL East.

Welcome aboard, Ian.

I'm Ian. I'm a Mets fan.

Hello, Red Sox and Yankees fans!

I would like to thank Dave and Aviv for inviting me to guest blog when their beloved teams play my wonderful, heart-wrenching Mets. The title of this entry is an homage to a friend of mine from Norwalk, Clayton Burroughs. I miss his Jose Reyes hugs.

A little about me. I've been a Mets fan for nearly 30 years. My first memory of a Met game was watching Tom Seaver's Cincinnati Reds win at Shea, and as my father, grandfather and I walked down the ramps leading out of the Stadium, a chorus of "Joe Torre Sucks!" chants echoed for minutes on end. Needless to say, I was hooked years before the ball trickled through Buckner's legs. I worked with Aviv at the Connecticut Post eons ago. Nearly a decade later, I work for a NY tabloid, and my views do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

I'll get straight to the point about this weekend's series at Fenway. I'm not optimistic concerning the Mets' chances of winning one game. I think they have as much of a chance to win Sunday's Tim Redding-Tim Wakefield matchup as they do tonight's Johan Santana-Daisuke Matsuzaka worldly tussle.

First off, the Mets are 3-6 in regular season games at Fenway, including a Boston sweep three years ago. No, the ghosts of Lenny Dykstra and Gary Carter from 1986 won't be much help here.
Next, Johan Santana historically does not pitch well at Fenway: He's 1-3 with a 6.89 ERA in four starts. Although for a pitcher that allows plenty of home runs, he's relinquished only one career Fenway bomb. Still, I don't like the idea of him facing gritty right-handed hitters like Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jason Bay and even Mike Lowell. This is as good a right-handed lineup as he'll see all season. Throw a suddenly heating up Big Papi, and it will be difficult. Santana very well could win the NL Cy Young Award this year, mainly because he's one of the two best starters in baseball and Citi Field invites him to be even more aggressive than he normally is. A healthy Santana should win a least two Cy Youngs pitching at Citi Field, the park where home runs go to die (It's amazing how the new Yankee Stadium embraces the long ball, but Citi Field shoos them away like flies). I expect he'll keep the Mets close, maybe a 4-3 loss. But, he's the Mets' biggest hope for a win this weekend.

Mike Pelfrey (facing Beckett) tends to keep the ball in the park, so that will help on Saturday. Sunday will be nearly a tossup if Redding can go at least six innings.

The big question is which sacrificial lineup will the Mets will put out each game. No Carlos Delgado. Jose Reyes day-to-day with tendinitis in his knee. All the Sox pitchers will need to do is pitch around Carlos Beltran and David Wright, and they should go fairly unscathed. Boston must be salivating about facing Ramon Martinez, Jeremy Reed, Angel Pagan, Ramon Castro, and to a lesser degree Luis Castillo, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Church, as many as 10 times this weekend. That list of future Hall of Famers must have Red Sox Nation trembling in anticipation. The wild card is Gary Sheffield, of course, but what he'll provide this weekend is a mystery. Plus, if you haven't noticed on SportsCenter, the Mets are fielding as well as the Amazin' Mets of the early '60s. A healthy lineup might have come into Fenway off a sweep of the Dodgers. Instead, they come in reeling, having lost four straight.

A gem from Santana could give the Mets one win, and there's a chance of stealing a game Saturday or Sunday. I won't be happy with just one win, but I'm realistic. If the Mets come away with two or more wins, that would make me angry if I were a Sox fan. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Just A Bruise

It could have been so much worse. Thank goodness it isn't.

Joba Chamberlain was hit with a drive on the right knee Thursday, tried to pitch through it, but ultimately had to leave the game.

But the way the Yankees are rolling, not even losing their starter two outs into the first is enough to derail them.

The Yankees scored four in the first, then Alfredo Aceves anchored a serviceable bullpen effort and New York won its ninth straight with a 7-4 victory over the Orioles at Yankees Stadium.

It is fortunate that the win did not come at a big price. X-rays on Joba were negative and he's listed as day-to-day. Joe Girardi said he hopes Chamberlain will be able to make his next start.

The night started well for Joba, striking out Brian Roberts, but Adam Jones followed with a shot back through the box that hit Joba square on the knee. Joba recovered to get Jones at first and tried to continue. But Nick Markakis and Aubrey Huff followed with singles, and after Joba limped to back up third, Girardi decided to make the change.

It was a scene reminiscent of April 28, 2007, against the Red Sox. Starter Jeff Karstens took a shot to the leg off the bat Julio Lugo. Karstens actually pitched to two more batters but couldn't continue. Turned out he had a broken leg as was lost for several months. (Note: That game was Kei Igawa's lone highlight with the Yanks, coming on to pitch six scoreless innings for the win).

So as Chamberlain limped off the mound, the cause for concern was legit ... not just for the outcome of the game, but for Joba's health.

On this night, luck was with the Yankees.

While the news about Joba was great, the news from the bullpen was pretty good, too, even with Phil Coke unavailable and the Yankees being cautious with Brian Bruney.

Alfredo Aceves continued to deliver in every situation the Yankees call upon him. He pitched 3-1/3 scoreless, picking up this third victory in this winning streak. If Joba can't go Tuesday at Texas, is there any reason not to have faith that Ace will step in and do more than a credible job?

Jonathan Albaladejo followed with 2-1/3 allowing four runs. He has options remaining, so don't be surprised if the Yankees send him down when Chien-Ming Wang, who will make another rehab start Friday for Scranton, comes back.

Surprisingly, Jose Veras pitched 1-2/3 inning without allowing a run before Mariano Rivera closed it out with his ninth save.

But what helped most was the early outburst by the offense, scoring four runs on four doubles in the first. Melky Cabrera had the big blow, driving in two with two outs.

Robinson Cano added a two-run shot in the second and Hideki Matsui a solo shot in the fifth and win No. 9 was within reach.

Now things get interesting with the Phillies coming to town. Is No. 10 on the horizon, or have the Yankees just been feeding on the weakest of the weak? We'll find out.

Runners In Scoring Position
Thursday
4-for-7 (.571)
Season
99-for-365 (.271)

Up Next
Friday vs. Phillies, 7:05 p.m., YES
Brett Myers (3-2, 4.50 ERA) vs. A.J. Burnett (2-1, 5.02)

Win No. 10 rests in Burnett's hands as the defending world champions visit the stadium. Burnett was terrific in his last out, but took a no-decision. The Phillies lead the NL East, but have not pitched particularly well. Entering Thursday, they had a 5.34 ERA, which ranked 27th in the league. This series has the potential to be a slugfest.