Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lowell Hits The DL

It's official now; Sox third baseman Mike Lowell is on the 15-day DL with a strained right hip. The move is retroactive to June 28. The Sox recalled Jeff Bailey from the Bucket to take the roster spot.


This is unfortunate but I think most people saw the writing on the wall. Especially after Lowell himself used the "A-word"* in describing the problem. It also puts the Sox in a bit of a bind as the 1B/3B shuffle is one of the few things that their farm system doesn't adequately cover.


Bailey is a short, short-term solution at first as Youk moves to third. Kotsay could go longer, but I don't know if he's the permanent solution. But down the system all our future first basemen (Lars, Chris Carter, Aaron Bates) are either too young or all bat and little glove. Bates is probably the closest to the majors in the farm system but he wouldn't be a major upgrade over Kotsay.


And so we come to the idea of trading for a third or first baseman. Which is problematic in itself because if Lowell does come back (and there is no reason to suspect otherwise at this point), he'll be starting again. So you can't trade for a starting third or first baseman for that reason, never mind the huge salary they're likely carrying**. But you can't trade for another standard prospect because that isn't an upgrade over your current situation. So somehow you have find either a prospect that is major-league ready but is blocked in his current organization, or you have to locate some "super-sub" that can really play first (or third) well but won't mind going to the bench. Any ideas?


The only name I can think of is Greg Dobbs in Philadelphia. He plays first and third and would be solid off the bench. But I'm not sure he's that much of an upgrade over Kotsay. Kotsay can get the job done at first and maybe that's the best play overall until Lowell rejoins the team.


But for now, the Sox find themselves with a question to answer that they didn't have even five days ago.


---------


* That would be "arthritis." Yes, not a good word to associate with an athlete.


** Garrett Atkins, I'm looking at you...

Charmed City

Have you ever watched one of those National Geographic specials set in India where they have the snake charmers? You know, the guys who play that flute-like instrument and get the cobra to do whatever they want? Well, when it comes to Jon Lester and the Orioles, Lester calls the tune and the O's just do whatever the heck he wants.


Last night Jon Lester continued his complete and total dominance over the Orioles. He went seven innings and surrendered just five hits while striking out eight and walking none. That, more than anything, powered the Sox to their 4-0 win over Baltimore. It was Boston's eighth straight win over the O's going back to last year.


It was also Lester's eighth win over the Orioles in his career. In 10 starts against Baltimore, Lester is 8-0 with a 2.18 ERA. And last night you saw why Lester enjoys a record like that. He had command of every pitch in his arsenal. His curveball was incredible; sweeping down-and-in on righties. According to ESPN, his curve had an average break of 7.7 inches, the best in his career. Lester didn't allow a single runner past second base* and he got six of the seven lead batters he faced out.


Lester has got his groove back in a big way. His eight strikeouts last night gives him 114 on the year, only ten behind AL leader Justin Verlander. In his last three games he has walked just two batters. His record for June so far is 3-1 with a 1.85 ERA. If he continues this through the break and into the second half of the season, his early troubles will be forgotten.


The bullpen looked good as well. Delcarmen, Oki and Ramirez got the Sox to the last out of the ninth. Ramon just couldn't get that last out, though, so Paps came on for the close. And while that last out involved some acrobatics from Jason Bay with an impressive sliding catch, the end result was that Paps got his 19th save of the year and 132nd save of his career.


If that number sounds familiar, that is because it is the same number of saves Bob Stanley had for the Sox. Now Papelbon is tied with Stanley for the all-time team saves record. Obviously, Paps will break it very soon, perhaps even tonight. So congrats to Jonathan for tying the record and inevitably breaking it. One more thing; check out Papelbon's early numbers as compared to Mariano Rivera's. Not all that different. Over their first three full seasons as closers, Papelbon had 113 saves and Mo had 124. Mo's lowest ERA was 1.83 in 1999 while Paps' was 0.92 in 2006. And it goes back and forth like that.


On the offensive side of things, the Sox got it going thanks to, of all people, J.D. Drew. He came this close to hitting for the cycle, missing only a double. His leadoff triple in the first, followed by Pedroia knocking him in, was all the Sox needed for the win. But Drew's two-run homer in the fourth didn't hurt, either. Ellsbury went 1-3 with a run scored and two stolen bases, giving him 33 for the year. I think 2009 is the year Ellsbury will break Tommy Harper's single-season Boston record of 54 steals, which he set in 1972. Ellsbury is way ahead of his pace from last year and I don't think he's going to slow down. Another 50+ steal season and he'll be the only Boston player in history to have 50 or more steals in two or more seasons. He'd also be the first Boston player to register 50+ steals in consecutive seasons.


If there's one thing I am worried about, it is Youk's slump. For the month of June he is batting just .225 with a .799 OPS. His production has really tailed off and it may be time to move him in the lineup. Maybe swap him and Bay so Youk bats cleanup? Couldn't hurt any and it seems like every time Tito joggles the lineup, good things happen.


Tonight the Sox try to make it nine in a row over Baltimore. Smoltz will try to build off of those last couple of good innings from his 2009 debut and face Rich Hill, who is 3-2 with a 6.03 ERA. In his last game against Florida he was smoked, giving up six runs in less than five innings.


-----------


* And neither did any of the relief pitchers. It was a tour de force last night.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Shuffle Up And Deal

Either baseball's version of Texas No-Limit Hold 'Em poker has finally arrived, or Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has been listening to way too much Lady GaGa.*

That's because Cashman is wearing a huge poker face and bluffing with the chutzpah of a riverboat gambler.

Cashman said Monday that the Yankees can fill their bullpen needs from within.



"The bullpen right now has been a real strength," Cashman said. "What's important about that is it lessens the 'I have to do something' prospect that's always looming. When you have to do something, you can overpay."


A real strength, huh? I don't think many people are buying that.

Yes, the Yankees bullpen has been much, much better recently, especially since Brian Bruney has returned. Over the Yankees' last 13 games, the bullpen is 1-1 with a 1.60 ERA in 39-1/3 innings.

Bruney's return has given the Yankees a strong eighth-inning man and is allowing manager Joe Girardi to finally establish some roles.

The addition of Phil Hughes has given relief corps another reliable, versatile, power arm, and Jose Aceves has nicely assumed the role that Ramiro Mendoza once held. Phil Coke, meanwhile, is perfect in the sixth-/seventh-inning/lefty specialist role.

All that is coming from within and giving the Yankees the makings of what can become a pretty good bullpen. A formula is starting to take shape.


"You mix and match, you give guys a taste of it," Cashman said. "Some guys take
advantage of it, some guys don't. After shuffling the furniture a little bit, we've found something that I think when Joe Girardi comes to the mound, our players and fan base feels a lot more confident."


But that bullpen still is an arm short -- and sorry Dave, the solution isn't moving Joba to the 'pen. He's staying in the rotation until he hits his innings limit.

The problem revolves around Bruney. When he's healthy and throwing strikes, he's proven himself to be adept at being the prized bridge to Mariano Rivera.

The thing is that after spending most of last season on the disabled list, he's already been back on the DL twice this season ... and both times the bullpen has imploded.

No one currently on the roster has been able to prove he can handle the eighth inning, though Hughes has shown he might be able to do the job. And if there was someone currently in the organization who could fill that role, something tells me we would already would have seen him by now.

That means the Yankees need a backup plan, someone who can reliably handle the eighth inning in addition to Bruney. They need to add some depth.

Look, Cashman does not have the greatest track record when it comes to finding relievers (see Fransworth, Kyle; Gordon, Tom and Karsay, Steve), but he's also not a total idiot. He knows the Yankees need another bullpen arm.

He also knows that if other teams perceive the Yankees as desperate, they will jack up the price and try to lure the Yankees into a bad deal.

But as long as the bullpen is pitching well, Cashman has leverage to drive down other teams' asking prices.

Right now, the Yankees don't appear to be in a position where they "have to do something." But that doesn't mean the don't want to do something.

Afterall, with a 4.27 ERA that ranks 8th in the AL ,a .748 OPS that ranks 9th and an AL-worst 43 homers allowed, the bullpen still needs some more help.

Cashman is out there searching for another reliever. He'll take advantage of the Yankees' financial superiority and willingness add a bad contract if he can net a reliable reliever.

But what he won't do is strip mine the farm.

Brian Cashman is playin' poker. He's holding a pair of pocket nines.

If that bullpen continues to perform like this until the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, those nines just might become trips or a full boat on the flop and allow the Yankees to make a reasonable deal.

...

*Yes, my head is spinning after making that reference. Terrestrial radio truly sucks at when you're driving home a 2 a.m. and there's only so much I can take of whining Mets fans on WFAN. I can't tell you how many times I've arrived home with my ears bleeding.

Mo Than Numbers

This wasn't going to be an easy one. No way.

Mariano Rivera's 500th save wasn't going to come by closing out a game with a three-run lead, pitching just one inning.

No, the Yankees were going to make him earn it.

But this is the Great Mariano, so was there really any reason to worry?

Leading by one, but with runners on first and second and two outs in the eighth, the Yankees called on Rivera to get them out of jam.

Rivera struck out Omir Santos, bailed Joe Girardi out of some more bad managing by walking with the bases loaded in the ninth for his first career RBI, and finished off the Mets to preserve a win for the Yankees in a 4-2 victory at Citi Field Sunday.

The win was the Yankees' fifth straight and first for Chien-Ming Wang since June 15, 2008, and pulled the Yankees to 3 games behind the Red Sox in the AL East. The Yankees also swept this leg of the Subway Series and took 5 of 6 from the Mets this season.

But Rivera was the headliner.

And what's odd about this accomplishment is that in a sport that is so tied to statistics, a sport in which its history so beautifully told by numbers, those numbers really don't tell the story on this historic night.

Yes, Mariano became only the second pitcher to record 500 saves, joining the Brewers' Trevor Hoffman. We can talk about his 2.30 career ERA, his record 34 postseason saves and 0.77 ERA, and the four Rolaids Relief Man Awards.

But did that 500th save really change anything?

Did it make him a lock for the Hall of Fame? No, that likely happened with save No. 300 on May 28, 2004, against the Rays.

Did it gain him entry into the pantheon of baseball immortals as the greatest closer in history? No, that likely happened with save No. 400 on July 16, 2006, against the White Sox.

What 500 did is simply build upon Rivera's legend and allow his teammates and fans like us to show him just how much we appreciate him.

"He's the best ever, there's no doubt about it. There's not going to be another
Mariano Rivera out there. Ever," Jorge Posada said. "I was as excited as he was. I wanted to be there. Mariano has meant a lot to me and made my job a lot easier. He's the best ever."




Said Girardi, who was the catcher when Rivera recorded his first save on May 17,
1996, against the Angels: ""The longevity that he's had, the consistency that
he's had since (he became a closer in) 1997, what he's been able to accomplish
during the regular season and the postseason, he's a remarkable pitcher. To
think he did it with one pitch, it's even harder to imagine."




"He's the definition of consistency," Derek Jeter said. "You can add up all the players that have ever played the game, Mo's been as consistent as anyone."



That's all high praise, but let me put it like this. If there was no Mo, there would have been no dynasty, no four World Series championships in five years. He's been that important.

Closers walk a tightrope just about every time they take the mound. They are in high-pressure situations and performing without a net. If they fail, odds are their team loses.

Many are able to be very good for a short period of time, but most flame out either because of the pressure or injury or both. That Rivera, now in his 14 full season, has been able to endure this long is amazing.

In Rivera's case, all you need to know about his importance is that in the three postseasons (1997, 2001 and 2004) in which he's blown a save, the Yankees failed to win the World Series. And while we've seen other closers, such as Mark Wohlers, crumble after such devastating failures, Rivera has somehow been able to move past and continue to dominate.

What's more amazing is that even coming off of shoulder surgery this offseason, Rivera is rounding into form and it doesn't appear he's lost a damned thing. His cutter and fastball are still dominant and he still has insane control.

He's saved 18 of 19, including 14 straight, and has a 2.93 ERA. Those early season problems when he was allowing homers, including consecutive ones against Rays, are long gone. And if the Yankees somehow miraculously find themselves in another save situation against Boston, Sox fans can count on this: Mo will close it out. There will not be another repeat of Jason Bay's homer. I guarantee it.

But as wonderful an accomplishment this was for Rivera, it was more important for Wang.

It's been a long, hard road back from that Lisfranc injury Wang sustained more than a year ago. He's struggled with his command, struggled with is velocity and has been knocked around like pinata at an 8-year-old's birthday party.

So for Wang, this win might have been just as important as his very first.

"I think the win is great for his confidence because everyone needs a win, no
matter how good you're pitching," Girardi said. "Everyone
needs fruit from their hard work."

By starting 0-6 after starting 6-0 last season, Wang became the first pitcher since Luis Tiant in 1970 to experience that kind of reversal of fortune. Tiant was a pretty good pitcher and went on to have some pretty good seasons after that.

Wang could do the same and Sunday was just the start.

In some respects, this was a step back for Wang, who was sharp and efficient in his last outing against the Braves, against whom he allowed three runs in five innings and was lifted for a pinch hitter after throwing only 62 pitches as Girardi was searching for some offense.

But by getting the win, Wang (1-6, 10.06 ERA) made a hugely important leap. He pitched a season-high 5-1/3 innings, allowing two runs on four hits and three walks. He struck out three and hit 94 mph with his fastball, but he didn't have command of his sinker, which had spelled trouble in the past.

Instead, Wang gutted it out, relying on his slider and fastball, throwing 48 of 85 pitches for strikes.


"It seems like every time he goes out there, he has more confidence," Posada
said. "If we get this guy straight, we're going to have a fun summer."

Wang allowed a runner in every inning except the fifth, but the only time he couldn't escape trouble was in the fourth, when he walked Gary Sheffield leading off. After Fernando Tatis grounded out, Fernando Martinez rocketed an RBI double and came around to score on Luis Castillo's RBI single to make it 3-2.

Fortunately for Wang, the Yankees' offense actually provided him with just enough support, unlike his previous outing in Atlanta.

The Yankees jumped on Livan Hernandez in the first. Jeter doubled to lead off and advanced to third when Nick Swisher ground to first and beat Daniel Murphy's ill-advised throw. That set the Yankees up with runners on the corners and no out.

Mark Teixeira brought in both runs with a double, and after the Yankees avoided a double play when Murphy dropped the relay throw on a grounder by Robinson Cano, Teixeira scored on Posada's sacrifice fly, making it 3-0.

After that the Yankees wasted numerous opportunities to put this game away, highlighted by a poor decision by Girardi, who tried to have Wang sacrifice Brett Gardner to second instead of allowing Gardner to steal second and bunt him over to third. Wang ended up bunting into an inning-ending double play.

Cano also killed two rallies by hitting into double plays, giving him a team-high 11 for the season. When Cano is hitting, he's capable of carrying a team. We saw that in the second half of 2007. But when he struggles, he can drag down a lineup.

Though Cano did hit the ball hard Sunday, he's just not getting hits and he's killing the team in the No. 5 hole in the lineup. Yes, the Yankees believe he's going to be a big RBI guy, but he's not that right now and either has to be dropped down in the lineup or spotted in the No. 2 spot to try to get his bat going.

Cano's numbers in clutch situations are dreadful right now, hitting .215 with runners in scoring position and .167 with the bases loaded. You just can't have that kind of production in the No. 5 hole. It's killing the offense and prevented the Yankees from crushing Hernandez, who actually pitched seven innings, allowed three hits and three runs, though he did walk five.

Girardi's other big mistake came in the sixth. After Phil Coke replaced Wang with one out in the sixth and struck out Martinez, Girardi called for Phil Hughes and made a double switch.

According to Managing 201: The NL, when you double switch, you take out the guy who made the final out of the previous inning, unless it's a big run producer (read No. 3 or 4 hitter).

In this case, Cano made the final out of the sixth. Instead, Girardi took out No. 2 hitter Nick Swisher, moving the pitcher's spot up three spots earlier than he had to.

Cano had already hit into two double plays -- and it should have been three -- and has not been hitting well. There was no good reason for not switching out Cano, especially since Ramiro Pena is just as good a fielder as Cano, maybe better.

The move came back to bite Girardi in the ninth.

The Yankees put runners on first and second with two outs, bringing up Jeter with Rivera on deck. Keep in mind, had Girardi made the conventional move, Rivera would not have been due up. The Mets intentionally walked Jeter because there was no way Girardi could pinch hit for his closer.

Mo, though bailed out Girardi, drawing a walk against Francisco Rivera to drive in his first career run.

After that, it was business as usually as Mo picked up his 110th career save of more than one inning.

No, it wasn't easy for Mo, but we don't need numbers to tell us he's special enough to handle it.

Runners In Scoring Position
Sunday
1-for-8 (.125)
Season
181-for-695 (.260)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
115-for-423 (.272)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Tuesday vs. Mariners, 7:05 p.m., YES
Brandon Morrow (0-3, 5.64) vs. Joba Chamberlain (4-2, 3.81)

Joba started this five-game roll in Atlanta. Let's seem him continue it in Yankee Stadium. Throw strikes big boy. Don't worry about the homers.

Tough Luck

Sometimes you pitch lousy and still win a game. Other times you pitch pretty well but somehow get saddled with the loss. Yesterday afternoon, Brad Penny got a loss he didn't deserve because someone has to lose. That and because Tommy Hanson looked pretty awesome for the Braves.


Boston's 2-1 loss still gained them the series win over the Braves, and they are 4-2 overall so far on this nine-game roadtrip. But yesterday's game still smarts because it felt like a game Boston should have won. They hit the ball hard but always to a Brave. Penny had great control (no walks) but served up a pair of meatballs for Atlanta's runs. Everything was just out-of-sync enough to throw Boston's game off. Which isn't to say that Atlanta didn't deserve to win; they did. But Boston is the better team and by not being at their best, it allowed Atlanta to steal the last game.


If you're looking for a bright spot, Saito and Bard looked good in relief. No runs or hits over the last two innings and a strikeout for each pitcher. And if you wanted to know how tough Penny is...the guy dislocated his thumb in the first inning throwing a pitch. He simply popped it back in, warmed up and went back to work. I fully expect to read a story someday about Penny reattaching his own arm and throwing a no-hitter.


The bad news (other than the loss) is that Mike Lowell had to return to Boston for a shot in his hip. I think even Lowell has used the term "arthritis" in describing what is happening with that hip. This could have major ramifications for the Sox this year. If Lowell cannot play, that means either the Sox trade for a third baseman (bring back Freddy Sanchez, anyone?) or they go with Youk at third and Kotsay at first. I guess they could promote Lars Anderson and see what happens. Or they could try Aaron Bates or Chris Carter. But if that's your choice then I'd just go with Kotsay. Obviously, Papi at first is not an option. Love ya big guy, but your glove work is...questionable these days.


Tonight the Sox go to Baltimore to begin the final leg of their nine-game roadtrip. Lester goes against Jason Berken. This is another of those "paper mismatches", where Lester just looks far superior to his competition. That may be reality as well; Berken has pitched seven innings or more just one time in six starts. He has surrendered at least one run in every start and gives up more flyballs than groundballs. All that combined makes for high-scoring potential when Berken is on the mound. Hopefully the Sox can take advantage of that.


Even with the loss yesterday, this road trip has been very successful for Boston. As a rule of thumb, if a team can win 2/3 of their home games and then go slightly better than .500 on the road, they'll make the playoffs. That's pretty much where the Sox are right now. So if they can take two of three from the Orioles, so much the better.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Delivering On A Promise

“I’m not very consistent right now. I’m not a negative guy, so I’m not
going to beat myself up over it. But when I do get on that run, it’s going to be impressive. I promise you that.”

--A.J. Burnett after pitching 2-2/3 innings in a 7-0 loss to the Red Sox
June 9

A.J. Burnett promised he would turn it around. He knew his performance, not just for that loss to the Red Sox, but for the season to that point was unacceptable.



He was 4-3 with a 4.89, and was not pitching like the guy who won a career-high 18 games with the Blue Jays last season, earning him a big, fat contact with the Yankees.



He also promised to be impressive.



He undersold on that promise because over the his last three starts, he's been beyond brilliant.



Burnett followed CC Sabathia's dominant performance Friday and an even better one Saturday, carrying a no-hitter into the sixth and combining with two relievers on a one-hitter in a 5-0 victory over the Mets at Citi Field, the suddenly resurgent Yankees' fourth straight win.



Over his last three starts, Burnett has gone 2-1, allowing two runs, one earned, on 10 hits and 10 walks, while striking out 26 over 20-1/3 innings, improving his record to 6-4 with a 3.93 ERA.



That dominance was on full display Saturday as Burnett walked just three and struck out a season-high 10 in seven innings, hitting 96 mph with his fastball and throwing 64 of 108 pitches for strikes.



“He was absolutely tremendous," Nick Swisher said. "That just goes to show
how electrifying he can be. Topping out at 95- 96-miles per hour; a [curve]
that you can’t even see, let alone hit. He was on point tonight. I know he
needed that.”


The Mets had no clue what was coming. Burnett's overpowering fastball set up a dominant curve and a very effective change.



"I’ve just trusted my stuff more," Burnett said, "not try to paint the inside or
outside corner, just let my fastball work and put people away."


The only issue for Burnett, as usual, was his control. In the second Burnett issued a one-out walk to Gary Sheffield and a two-out walk to Jeremy Reed, but Brian Schneider popped out to first to end the inning. That would be the only time the Mets got a runner as far as second.



And the defense provided Burnett with plenty of support, including two terrific running catches by Melky Cabrera to rob David Murphy of hits in the second and fifth.



The only thing that separated Burnett for his second career no-hitter was Alex Cora's leadoff single. Cora, who had been hitless in 21 career at-bats against Burnett, laced a curve into center in the sixth.



"I’m not one of these guys who’ll tell you I didn’t know I had one,"
Burnett said
. "I knew it from the first inning. From the fourth inning on, I
was pretty much shooting for it. When you see guys running around, diving like
that, it makes you go harder."


The Yankees' pitching has thoroughly dominated the injury-ravaged Mets. Sabathia allowed one run on three hits in seven innings Friday night and for the two games, the Mets are being outhit by Brett Gardner, 5-4.



In the five games played between the teams this season the Yankees have outscored the Mets, 40-15.



And though the Yankees didn't need much offense Saturday thanks to Burnett, they still provided plenty, even though Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon were out of the lineup because of a severe cold.



Swisher gave Burnett all the support he'd really need with a one-out homer in the second, but the offense made sure to put away the Mets and starter Tim Redding in the sixth.



Mark Teixeira doubled with one and scored on Alex Rodriguez's single. A-Rod has now driven in 11 runs in his last six games after driving in only nine in the previous 22.



Robinson Cano followed with a double to put runners on second and third and Jorge Posada removed any doubt about the outcome of this game by crushing a curve over the fence in left-center for a three-run homer, giving the Yankees a 5-0 lead.



Brian Bruney and David Robertson pitched the eighth and ninth.



Oh, and by the way Francisco Rodriguez, you wanted to know who Brian Bruney is. Well, he's the guy who just retired your team in order on seven pitches in the eighth.



So the Yankees head into the finale of Subway Series having already won the season series with Mets for the first time since 2003.



But this is no time to rest.



The Yankees have an opportunity here and must seize it.



They've gotten consecutive dominant performances from their two, big, free-agent pitching acquisitions. Together with Chien-Ming Wang they were supposed to be the Big Three to anchor the rotation.



Wang, of course, is having a disastrous season at 0-6 with a 11.20 ERA. He has, however, been much, much better over his last two starts and is starting to show the form that allowed him to win 19 games in consecutive seasons.



Sabathia and Burnett are starting to fulfill their promise this season.



Wang has a chance to the same by getting that first win of the season tonight and hopefully turning his year around.



And if that happens, the Yankees will be poised fulfill their promise.



Runners In Scoring Position
Saturday
2-for-5 (.400)
Season
180-for-687 (.262)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
114-for-415 (.275)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)



Up Next
Sunday at Citi Field, 8:05 p.m., ESPN
Wang (0-6, 11.20) vs. Livan Hernandez (5-2, 4.05)



In six career starts against the Yankees, Hernandez is 0-3 with a 6.94 ERA. The offense should be able to provide Wang with plenty of support.


Marching Through Atlanta

It's gotten to the point where a Josh Beckett start is all but a guaranteed win. As long as the Boston bats keep up their end of the deal, Beckett will put the team in a position to come out on top.



That has definitely been the case against Atlanta this year. In an odd scheduling quirk, Beckett has had two straight starts against the Braves. That has also meant that he has faced the same pitcher - Jair Jurrjens - two times in a row. I don't think Jurrjens has enjoyed the experience as much as Beckett.


Last night Beckett went seven shutout innings and gave up just six hits. He struck out six and walked none. For the second straight game, he utterly dominated the Braves. His combined line from the two games:


2-0 | 16.0 IP | 11 H | 0 ER | 0 R | 0 BB | 13 K

Over the last six times he has faced the Braves, Beckett is 6-0 with a 0.38 ERA. Domination, pure and simple. Owning a team like that makes it easier for the Sox to win. All it takes is a timely hit or two to get the decision.


The first one came in the fifth inning when Jurrjens hung a pitch over the plate to Ortiz, which he then deposited in the right-field stands for his seventh home run in the month of June. For the month Papi is batting .311 with a 1.091 OPS.


The second hit wasn't even a hit, just smart baseball. Pedroia got on second with a double, moved to third on a balk and then J.D. Drew got him home with a well-placed grounder to second. It was small ball at it's best, showing that the AL can play it as well as the boys on the Senior Circuit.


And thank God for it because the Sox were actually outhit 8-7 by Atlanta. But Boston made their chances count and the Braves couldn't get it done. They left nine men on base as opposed to just three left on base for the Sox.


And let us not ignore the milestone that Tito reached last night. With the 4-1 win Terry Francona now has 800 wins as a manager overall, 515 with the Sox. Only Pinky Higgins (560) and Joe Cronin (1071) have won more games managing the Sox. Pinky should fall at the end of this year. Cronin will take a little longer, but considering how well Tito has managed the Sox, he should have every chance of sticking around to see if he can beat it. Overall, Tito's 800 wins place him 69th all-time in MLB history.


Going off-topic...Thursday's debut for Smoltz was not exactly what everyone was hoping for. But it seems the overall opinion is chalking it up to "nerves". I guess that's possible; Smoltz did settle down after that first inning and showed pretty good control. But his fastball only tickled the low 90s and looked pretty hittable. Any success he has going forward will be using his off-speed stuff to set up that fastball. Kind of like how Wakefield will occasionally slip that high-80s fastball in and catch a batter flat-footed.


Boston has really good luck against Atlanta, going 13-6 against the Braves since 2004 and 3-1 so far in 2009. Hopefully that trend continues today as Wakefield takes the mound against Javier Vasquez. If that name sounds familiar, Sox fans, it's because Boston teed off against him regularly in 2004 when he played with the Yankees and 2006-08 when he played with the White Sox. Vasquez simply doesn't play Boston very well.

Inferior Competition

There should be a rule against this.

They shouldn't let a minor league team go up against major leaguers -- and the Yankees didn't even have their best lineup on the field.

Still, it sure was fun to watch.

CC Sabathia showed his arm was fine by carrying a perfect game into the fifth and allowing one run in seven innings, Brett Garner went 5-for-6 with a homer and triple, Alex Rodriguez also homered, and the Yankees took advantage of three Mets errors in a four-run second, rolling to a 9-1 victory at Citi Field Friday, their third straight win.

It was the kind of victory coaches draw up, but rarely happen: terrific pitching, strong defense and timely, opportunistic offense.

The Yankees played the game without Derek Jeter, who turned 35 Friday, but was held out because of a severe cough. Joe Girardi does not expect him to play today either. As a result, Ramiro Pena played short and hit eighth, while Brett Gardner led off.

In addition, Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada were given the night off. That's a lot of firepower to be missing from the lineup, but that didn't matter against the Mets.

Let's be fair and acknowledge just how beat up the Mets are. Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, John Maine, Oliver Perez and J.J. Putz are all on the DL. Those are all key players for the Mets' success.

Friday they had a lineup that featured Alex Cora at short, Nick Evans at first and Ryan Church in center. The only star that played was David Wright, and even he started throwing the ball around.

It all added up to a tough night for Mets starter Mike Pelfrey.

Melky Cabrera got the Yankees going in the second with an infield single, Wright fielding the ball, but making an errant throw that allowed Cabrera to reach second. After Cervelli struck out, Pena came through with an RBI-double to left and Sabathia delivered a grounder back through the middle to score Pena and make it 2-0.

Gardner followed with a single to left to put runners on the corners and then things really got ugly. Damon rolled a doubleplay ball to Cora and the Mets were poised to escape the inning. But Cora's through to second was offline and sailed toward right, allowing Sabathia to score and move the runners to second and third.

Mark Teixeira then hit a slow roller down the first base line that Evans couldn't field cleanly, allowing Teixeira to reach and Gardner to score to make 4-0. After walking A-Rod, Pelfrey finally got out of the inning by getting Robinson Cano to pop to second and Melky to ground out.

You had to feel sorry for Pelfrey, who threw the ball well and made to tough pitches. He ended up allowing four runs, two earned, on six hits and two walks in five innings.

But the way Sabathia was pitching, the Mets couldn't afford those mistakes.

Sabathia left his previous start Sunday at Florida after 1-1/3 inning because of left biceps tendinits. The Yankees were quite concerned about Sabathia's health and made sure to have Phil Hughes ready just in case.

Sabathia, however, wasn't worried about his arm. He was worried that his mechanics were rusty.





“I was just trying to work on my delivery and make sure I was getting the
ball down because I had so many days off. I was feeling real good,” Sabathia
said.



As a result, he didn't even know that he was perfect through four innings, having thrown 57 pitches.

But in the fifth he ran into the only trouble of the night. Gary Sheffield, who has been hammering Yankees pitching, led off by ripping a fat, 1-and-1 slider deep into the stands in left to break up the perfect game and make it 4-1.

Tatis followed with a single and after Church hit into a fielder's choice, Evans added another single to put runners on first and second. Sabathia, however, regained his footing, striking out Omir Santos and Argenis Reyes to end the inning, though his pitch count rose to 80.

He cruised over the next two innings, his night done after seven, having allowed just the three hits. He didn't walk anyone and struck out 8, throwing 67 of 99 pitches for strikes.

For some reason, Girardi was going to send Sabathia back out there for eighth and allowed Sabathia to hit. Girardi is getting reckless with the health of his players -- first not resting A-Rod and now this.

Remember, Sabathia only five days earlier had come out the game after 1-1/3 innings because of an arm problem. Yes, Sabathia is a horse, but would it really have been worth it to force the issue there? Wouldn't a little more caution have been the more prudent course?

Fortunately, Gardner forced Girardi's hand, homering off Elmer Dessens to right after CC struck out for the first out of the eighth to give the Yankees some breathing room. A-Rod gave the Yankees even more with a two-run shot later in the inning, the 564th of his career to pass Reggie Jackson for 11th.

A-Rod is once again locked in, but he is no longer pull conscious, looking to take the ball up the middle and to right. And he has homered in two straight games

The Yankees tacked on two more on the ninth on Gardner's RBI triple and Damon run-scoring double to make it 9-1.

It appears Gardner has once again laid claim to the starting center field job. Over the last 27 games he's hitting .387, raising his average to .303 and on-base percentage to .374. Those are numbers that make him a very dangerous major league players. It means he's getting on base and able to wreak havoc with opponents' pitchers and defense.

And while ideally the Yankees would love to have one solid, everyday player to handle center field, the Cabrera-Gardner tandem is working out pretty well. Both guys have good attitudes, neither has sulked when he was removed from the starting lineup, both appear to like the other and they seem to be pushing each other in a way that is making both quite productive.

Combined they are hitting .294 (104-for-354) with 60 runs, 15 doubles, four triples, 10 homers, 41 RBI and 21 stolen bases. You know, that's pretty good production coming primarily from center field.

So the Yankees are rolling once again, and though memories of the series against the Nationals are still fresh in my head, I can't help but feel the Yankees will sweep this series -- even with Chien-Ming Wang pitching Sunday. The offense should have no problem with the likes of Tim Redding and Livan Hernandez.

That's what happens when you face a Triple A squad.

Runners In Scoring Position
Friday
3-for-17 (.176)
Season
178-for-682 (.261)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
112-for-414 (.271)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Saturday at Citi Field, 7:10 p.m., YES, Local TV (check your listings)
A.J. Burnett (5-4, 4.24) vs. Tim Redding (1-2, 6.08)

Burnett, who was suspended for five games, is coming off two strong starts, though he was outdueled by Josh Johnson last Saturday and lost. He's looking to establish some consistency and he should be able to feast the Mets' weakened lineup, especially Cora, who is 0-for-21 with 10 strikeouts in his career against A.J.

Friday, June 26, 2009

In A-Rod We Have No Choice But To Trust

As A-Rod goes, so goes the Yankees. At least, that's what it seems like.

Alex Rodriguez broke out of his slump Wednesday with a big, two-run single.

Thursday he picked up right where he left off, going 3-for-5 with a homer -- the 563rd of his career, tying Reggie Jackson for 11th -- and four RBI to lead the Yankees to an 11-7 victory in Atlanta, their second straight.

Starting with his clutch, sixth-inning single Wednesday, A-Rod reached base in eight straight appearances, collecting four hits and six RBI before striking out in the eighth Thursday.

And it's not a coincidence that the offense took off when A-Rod did. The Yankees pounded out 16 hits Thursday and in the last two games, it has scored 19 runs. In the seven previous games, it totaled 18.

It should be clear to anyone who follows this team just how important A-Rod is to its success. The Yankees were mediocre at best in April while Rodriguez was rehabbing his injured hip and took off in May when he returned. When he started slumping in June, the Yankees went into a swoon.

A-Rod is the heartbeat of the lineup, making everyone around him better when he is right ... and dragging down the lineup like a boat's anchor when he hits the skids.

The good news for the Yankees is that it appears A-Rod has gotten himself back on track.

At least it certainly looked like it Thursday.

The Yankees jumped on Braves starter Derek Lowe early and didn't let up. Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon led off with singles to put runners on the corners, but Mark Teixeira grounded into a doubleplay, bringing in Jeter, who went 4-for-5 with 4 runs.

A-Rod then stepped to the plate and crushed a pitch to center to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead. It was clear the offense was in a groove as Jorge Posada followed with walk and Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner singled to load the bases, but Cody Ransom, playing second for Robinson Cano, popped to short to end the inning.

The Braves got one back in the bottom half on Yunel Escobar's RBI double off Andy Pettitte, but the Yankees kept pounding away.

A-Rod drove in his second run of the game in the second with a single and the Yankees pushed across three more in the third on Johnny Damon's bases-loaded, two-out triple to make it 6-1.

The Yankees knocked out Lowe with no outs in the fourth when A-Rod reached on an error and Posada singled. Kris Medlan replaced Lowe and struck out Nick Swisher and got Gardner to pop to third, but Ransom delivered a two-run double and Pettitte seemed set to cruise with an 8-1 lead.

Unfortunately, Pettite was not sharp, getting hit hard and knocked out in the fourth.

Yankee killer Garret Anderson led off with a single and Jeff Francoeur doubled to put runners on second and third. Casey Kotchman brought them both in with a double and Pettitte hit pinch hitter Matt Diaz. After Nate McLouth flied to center, Gardner misplayed a pop from Martin Prado, allowing another run to score, making it 8-4. Pettitte battled back to strike out Brian McCann, but he couldn't close out the inning, allowing a two-run single to Escobar, making it 8-6.

Alfredo Aceves (5-1) then replaced Pettitte and struck out Anderson before pitching two scoreless innings to earn the victory.

Pettitte's line wasn't pretty. He allowed six runs, three earned, on seven hits in 3-2/3 innings. He walked three and struck out four, throwing 59 of 95 pitches for strikes.

Pettitte has truly become a bottom of the rotation pitcher, capable of pitching a solid game, but just as likely to produce a dud. The thing about him is that he will battle his way through and usually will keep his team in it.

But on this night, he had more than enough support from the offense.

The Yankees grabbed a little more breathing room in the seventh as A-Rod continued his onslaught with a bases-loaded, two-run single and Damon, who went 3-for-4 with 4 RBI, had an RBI single in the eighth as the Yankees seemed on their way to an uneventful finish.

Unfortunately David Robertson couldn't finish it off, allowing a homer to McCann before putting two on with two out, forcing Mariano Rivera in for the final out and his 16th save of the season and 499th of his career.

Nonetheless, the Yankees ended a six-game trip that started miserably with three losses in four games with two straight wins and roll in the second Subway Series of the year on a bit of a roll.

The Yankees just have to hope A-Rod stays hot for a long time ... or at least until they prove they can win when he's not locked in.

Bad News
Xavier Nady (elbow) removed himself from his rehab game at Triple-A Scranton after making a throw from the outfield. GM Brian Cashman said he's fearing the worst, meaning it's likely Nady will need season-ending Tommy John surgery.

That might mean the Yankees could be in the market for another outfield bat. Stay tuned.

Runners In Scoring Position
Thursday
6-for-19 (.316)
Season
175-for-665 (.263)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
109-for-397 (.275)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Friday at Mets, 7:10 p.m., SNY, Local TV (check your listings)
CC Sabathia (6-4, 3.71 ERA) vs. Mike Pelphrey (5-2, 4.74)

Yankees are holding their breath that Sabathia's left biceps is fine after he left his last start after 1-1/3 innings.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Finally, A Spark

The Yankees didn't burn their bats, but Joe Girardi found a way to light a fire under his team.

Girardi was ejected in the sixth inning Wednesday and the offense responded by pounding out eight runs on 10 hits over the final four innings to beat the Braves 8-4 in Atlanta, snapping a three-game losing streak.

It was the Yankees' biggest offensive outburst since beating the Mets 15-0 on June 14.

Before the game, Girardi, hitting coach Kevin long and GM Brian Cashman held a 20-minute meeting with the hitters, trying to spark a lineup that had hit .219 over the previous seven games.

That came on the heels of a players' only meeting after Tuesday's game.

Those meeting worked so well that the Yankees failed to get a baserunner against Kenshin Kawakami through the first five innings, extending the Yankees' scoreless streak to 14 innings.

So much for words.

But in the sixth, Brett Gardner broke up the perfect game, leading off with a walk. Kawakami and the Braves paid close attention to Gardner, throwing to first three times, and on the third pickoff attempt, umpire Bill Welke called Gardner out.

It was a close play, but replays showed Welke owes the Yankees an apology. Gardner beat the tag and was safe.

But Girardi didn't need a replay to tell Gardner was safe and made sure to let Welke know it, eventually saying the magic words to get tossed.

Here's the thing about arguing with umpires: if a manager doesn't want to get tossed, most of the time he won't. Umpires usually will let a manager have his say and then go back to the dugout.

In the eighth, Robinson Cano was hit in the back with a throw from catcher Brian McCann, who was attempting to complete a double play, resulting in an error and allowing a run to score. Braves manager Bobby Cox, the all-time leader in ejections, came out to argue that Cano should have been out for running out of the baseline.

The umps didn't agree and Cox returned to the dugout.

Girardi denies it, but I believe he wanted to get ejected in the sixth. His team needed a spark and he was hoping this would do the trick. It did.


"It could have been the sparkplug," Mark Teixeira said. "I love seeing a manager stick up for his team. It was a bad call, and Joe stood up for us. He knows we're battling out there, so he's going to go battle for us."


Rookie Francisco Cervelli followed the argument by hitting his first homer, a shot that cleared the wall in left-center to tie the score at 1.

But that was just the beginning. After Joba Chamberlain lined out to second, Derek Jeter followed with singles and Teixeira walked to load the bases.

Jeff Bennett came on to face Alex Rodriguez and went after the slumping slugger, pumping fastball after fastball down the heart of the plate to get ahead 0-and-2.

That's really all you need know about how badly A-Rod's been. Teams aren't even the slightest bit afraid to challenge him with a fastball.

But this time, A-Rod made the Braves pay, lacing a two-run single up the middle for a 3-1 lead.

The most encouraging sign was that A-Rod cut down his swing, looking to do something positive. During his MVP season in 2007, whenever A-Rod went into a slump, he always seemed to get out of it by simplifying his swing and his approach.

Invariably what would happen is A-Rod would get a couple of hard-hit singles or doubles to center or right and before we knew it, he'd be locked in again.

I hope this single is the start of a similar turnaround.

After taking the lead in the seventh, the Yankees didn't let up, tacking on important runs in each of the next three innings, highlighted by a Nick Swisher leadoff homer in the seventh, a Swisher RBI groundout int he eighth, and an RBI single by Damon in the ninth followed by a run-scoring double by Teixeira.

It was more than enough for Joba, who bounced back from two sub-par outings to earn the win, going 6-1/3 innings and allowing three runs, two earned, on seven hits.

His control was sharp. He struck out five, walked none (a major turnaround from he previous two outings) and threw 68 of 99 pitches for strikes, his fastball hitting 94 mph consistently.

Joba battled the Braves, allowing Jeff Francoeur's leadoff homer in the fifth to keep the Yankees in the game until Girardi figured out how to get the bats going.

The Yankees had the opportunity to pinch hit for him in the seventh, but with a 4-1 lead and Joba at 86 pitches, they left him in.

It was the right decision. If the Yankees believe Joba can be a top-flight starter, there is no way he should ever come out there with a three-run lead. And the big reason he didn't finish the seventh was his throwing error on a sacrifice by Kelly Johnson.

The only down note was Brian Bruney's control problems in the eighth. He walked two and allowed a run on Francoeur's two-out single. Mariano Rivera came on to strike out Johnson before striking out the side in the ninth for his 16th save -- getting an at-bat and flying out to center in the ninth in the process.

It was a great win for the Yankees, but it will mean nothing of they don't back it up with another win today.

Maybe Girardi should get ejected before the game even begins just to be safe.

Runners In Scoring Position
Wednesday
2-for-9 (.222)
Season
169-for-646 (.262)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
103-for-378 (.272)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Thursday at Atlanta, 7 p.m., YES
Andy Pettitte (7-3, 4.26 ERA) vs. Derek Lowe (7-5, 4.09)

Consistency is the watchword for Yankees pitchers. Pettitte had a brilliant outing Friday in a win over the Marlins and he needs to back that up with another strong outing. Meanwhile, Yankees starters have pitched pretty well despite the lack of offensive support. That needs to continue.

The good news for the offense is it will be facing a pitcher it is very familiar with. Lowe is a former Red Sox who has faced the Yankees plenty of times in his career.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

National Domination

Boston started their last stretch of inter-league play last night, traveling to Washington, D.C. to face the woeful Nationals. The one thing Washington had in their favor was John Lannan, a young pitcher who is not intimidated in the least by top-flight teams (ask Aviv how the Yankees did against Lannan). So the Boston plan was obvious; get past Lannan and prey on Washington's inferior bullpen.


Mission accomplished.


Lannan held the Nationals in the game at a 3-3 tie until the seventh. But after 109 pitches, he had to make way for the relief corps...such as they are. And that is why the Sox won 11-3 last night.


My god, that bullpen is frighteningly bad. Is there a worse one in the majors*? Every single pitcher the Nationals brought in gave up at least one run. It was brutal.


Compare that to the stellar play of the Sox. Especially on defense. There were two remarkable plays by the infield last night:


  • Nick Green's remarkable play in the third. He snags a sharp grounder from Nick Johnson, tags out Guzman at second as he shoulder-rolls over the bag and the player and then fires to first to get Johnson. It was as slick a play as you'll see all year.


  • Mike Lowell's catch-and-fire in the seventh. With Gonzalez on first, Guzman hit a rocket of a line drive at third. Lowell snagged it out of the air and, without hesitating for a second, fired to Youk at first to double off Gonzalez. Just a fantastic play.

And while Washington's bullpen exploded, Boston's bullpen locked things down. Over the final 3.1 innings, they surrendered no runs and just two hits. Okajima was especially impressive, needing just eight pitches to get through the seventh.


And the Boston bats sprung back to life. The only non-pitching starter to go hitless was J.D. Drew, and even he drew two walks and scored a run. Pedroia had a remarkable productive night as the leadoff batter, going 3-6 and scoring two runs.


But the two offensive stars were in the outfield. Jason Bay and Jacoby Ellsbury were flat-out awesome at the plate last night. Bay went 4-6 with three runs scored and three RBI, including a solo shot in the second. That gives Bay 19 homers on the year. Ellsbury went 4-4 with a walk, three RBI and a run scored. He also hit two triples. These two guys pretty much could do no wrong last night.


This is how you want to kick off a nine-game road trip. Hopefully that will continue tonight, with Jon Lester facing Craig Stammen. Stammen is a new face that, like Lannan, racked up a win over the Yankees in the Bronx. So he isn't a pitcher to be treated lightly. But like last night, all the Sox have to do is wear him down and get him out of the game. At that point, the Nationals become a very, very soft team.


And with that, I will be out until Friday. Sorry for the unfiltered Yankee bias that will dominate the pages.


--------------------


* Only one team has a worse bullpen than Washington. The LA Angels' bullpen has a 5.64 ERA. Washington's is 5.59 and likely to get worse. By comparison, Boston's bullpen has a MLB-best 2.84 ERA.

Just Burn The Bats

The Yankees' equipment manager had better order a new batch of bats.

Clearly, the only thing this batch is good for is kindling. Burn baby, burn.

The Yankees went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 as the offense managed only four hits and repeatedly let Braves rookie starter Tommy Hanson off the hook in a 4-0 loss in Atlanta Tuesday.

The Yankees are now five games behind the Red Sox in the AL East, and at 38-32 are but one game better than they were at the same point last year, when they were scavenging through scrap heaps to find starting pitchers.

But in this latest slide, it's the offense that's been the culprit.

Since scoring 15 runs against the Mets on June 14, the Yankees' offense has been lifeless and ineffective as the team has gone 2-5 against the weakest teams in the NL East.

Since that Mets game, the Yankees have scored 18 runs -- an average of a paltry 2.57 a game -- and have gone 49-for-224 (.219), including going 12-for-52 (.226) with runners in scoring position.

In short, the offense has been pathetic. The team might as well use these bats to hold a bonfire. They are not good for anything else.

Tuesday's game was positively maddening.

For a change, the Yankees actually worked deep counts and ran up Hanson's pitch count.

Hanson left after only 5-1/3 innings, allowing four hits and five walks. He struck out four the threw 57 of 99 pitches for strikes.

And despite throwing only in the 80s, Hanson constantly worked his way out of trouble.

In the second, the Yankees loaded the bases when Robinson Cano was hit by a pitch with one out and Melky Cabrera and Brett Garnder walked with two outs. Chien-Ming Wang, however, swung at the first pitch he saw from Hanson and topped to the mound.

Now I know Wang is only a pitcher and the likelihood of him doing anything productive was slim, but how about taking a pitch or two from a guy who just walked to guys in a row? Who knows, maybe he throws a wild pitch? But this the indicative of the hitting approach of this team and we have to wonder why hitting coach Kevin Long isn't coming under more fire -- especially from Hank and Hal Hess ... I mean Steinbrenner.

Derek Jeter led off the third with a double and Mark Teixeira walked with one out, but of course the Yankees did nothing with the opportunity. Jeter and Teixeira stole as Alex Rodriguez struck out and then Cano lofted a fly to left to end the inning.

The Yankees loaded the bases again in the fourth, but failed yet again. With one out Cabrera doubled and Gardner reached on a fielder's choice when he grounded to short and Cabrera was safe as Braves third baseman Chipper Jones dropped the throw from shortstop Yunel Escobar.

Then Joe Girardi did something puzzling, yet again. He had Wang sacrifice Gardner to second as Melky stayed put. If Girardi was willing to give up and out there, why not try a double steal or a suicide squeeze? Moving Gardner to second via the bunt gained very little and was an absolute waste of an out.

Jeter followed with a walk, but Nick Swisher grounded to short. That meant in the second, third and fourth innings, the Yankees managed to leave eight men on base. For the game, the Yankees had 8 out of 30 at-bats with a runner in scoring position. That's 26.7 percent of the time, more than one out of every four at-bats. You'd think they'd be able to get at least one in just by accident.

The offense mounted yet another threat in the sixth when Gardner singled with one out and stole second. Hideki Matsui, pinch hitting for Wang, walked to knock Hanson out of the game, but it really didn't matter. Jeter grounded into yet another doubleplay.

From there, the Yankees had only one more baserunner the rest of the game, when Johnny Damon pinch hit and walked in the ninth.

It's a shame the offense was so pathetic because Wang actually pitched pretty well.

He went five innings, allowing three runs on six hits and one walk. He struck out four and threw 42 of 62 pitches for strikes. He would have gone much deeper into the game had the offense done anything ... or he was pitching in an American League park.

The only trouble Wang got into came in the third with two outs when he allowed an RBI double to Brian McCann and a two-run single to Yankee killer Garret Anderson.

Wang actually looked like the guy who won 19-games two years in a row, throwing a hard, sinking fastball at 94 mph and spotting a very effective slider.

But the big issue for the Yankees right now is their bats.

They have to do something to get them going, and with management reluctant to do anything to shake up the team, the players have to take upon themselves to something.

Get the lighter fluid boys. Time to get this bonfire cranking.

Runners In Scoring Position
Tuesday
0-for-8 (.000)
Season
167-for-637 (.262)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
101-for-369 (.274)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Wednesday at Atlanta, 7 p.m., YES
Joba Chamberlain (2-3, 3.89 ERA) vs. Kenshin Kawakami (4-6, 4.42)

Joba, be more aggressive with the fastball and stopping walking in runs. Offense -- WAKE UP!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tainted Legacies

Aviv wrote a really nice post today about Donald Fehr and how his legacy is inevitably stained by the prevalent use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) on his watch. I want to talk about another piece of the whole sordid pie; what to do with the players. More accurately, what to do if they have numbers good enough for the Hall.


I'm in what feels like, to me, is the minority these days; I think the players proven to have used PEDs should be banned from the Hall. Period. End of discussion. I don't care if this creates a huge gap in who enters when or a whole generation of players get wiped out as a result. If you used PEDs, you should be gone.


The arguments against this drive me crazy:


  • "Everyone was doing it!" - Ah, no. The 2003 anonymous test showed that only a shade over 7% of players were using PEDs. Even if that number jumped to 10% or so, that means 9 out of every 10 players played the game clean. I would wager a couple of those guys will put up HoF-worthy numbers.


  • "What about greenies?!" - For those of you not familiar with the term, "greenies" are amphetamines, immortalized in the classic tell-all "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton*. The argument for some goes that all the stalwarts of the 50s and 60s were popping greenies to stay awake and this gave them an advantage like PEDs do today.


    What these geniuses forget is what Bouton actually said about greenies in the book. He derided their overall effectiveness, saying they made players jittery. Look at it this way; Do you remember No-Doz? Did you ever pop four of five to study for a final? How well did you actually do studying? Welcome to greenies.


    More recently, Bouton has also made the necessary distinction that greenies were performance enablers, not enhancers. In other words, greenies didn't help your bat speed or your eyesight or give you more muscles. It helped keep a hangover at bay so a player could scrape by come gametime.


    All this said, greenies are dangerous as hell and were rightfully banned. And they did set the stage for actual PEDs. But to compare the two and call them equal is just ridiculous.


  • "It wasn't against the rules!" - This excuse drives me up a wall, because it shows a basic ignorance of what was going on in the game by the people who are supposedly covering the game.


    Baseball's rules in 1991 banned the use of steroids, rules that are still in effect today. From Fay Vincent's memo of that year:


    The possession, sale or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance by Major League players and personnel is strictly prohibited...This prohibition applies to all illegal drugs and controlled substances, including steroids...

    So yes, it was illegal by the time Bonds, Clemens and the rest of the gang started getting funky with the PEDs.

A line must be drawn here and a penalty must be paid. No other sport reveres it's records and history as much as professional baseball. And the rampant use of PEDs threatens the integrity of both. The very fact that Barry Bonds is considered the all-time home run leader by MLB is disgusting. The fact that Roger Clemens is officially ahead of guys like Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver is repugnant.


The rule should be simple: You use and you are out. But the odds of that ever happening are remote because too many people who could make that happen are feckless, spineless or both. So here's another idea; guesstimate where they started using and base their candidacy on their prior stats.


A lobotomized ferret could look at Barry Bonds' stats and see he started using between the 1998 and 1999 seasons. So vote on him based on everything prior to 1999. Guess what...he'd get in and get in clean. He was a phenomenal player before all this crap and the fact he decided to use is pathetic.


Roger Clemens would be limited to what he did in Boston. Trust me; if you saw his fat gut in 1996 you'd also know he was clean at that point. He'd be more borderline than Bonds, but he'd get in as well. So I think this system could work.


Of course, this likely will never happen either. I'd settle for just marking their plaques with big asterisks and placing them in a new wing in Cooperstown dedicated to PED cheats. But since the baseball writers want to make this go away as well (since they ignored the evidence for so long until it smacked them in the face and they couldn't any longer**) the day will come when Bonds and Clemens and the rest go in as if nothing ever happened.


And the day that happens, baseball's history will be tainted forever.


-----------


* Which, by the way, should be required reading if you are any kind of baseball fan. My copy is practically falling apart.


**You think I am kidding? Anyone remember Steve Wilstein, the AP reporter who saw Andro in Mark McGwire's locker in 1998? Baseball writers everywhere tore Wilstein a new one because he had the audacity to write about what he saw while everyone else turned their heads. Wilstein made them look bad and the longer that PEDs continue to be an issue in sports, the longer everyone will remember that baseball writers are as responsible for this disaster as the players and the owners. So the sooner this goes away, the better it is for them.

Steroids Stain Fehr's Legacy

After more than a quarter century at the helm of the country's most power labor union, Donald Fehr has decided to retire.

During his 26 years as the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, Fehr, 61, helped to bring players an unprecedented level of financial security, raising the average salary from $289,000 in 1983 to $3.24 million this season.

But for all his success, for all the positives he did for players, Fehr's legacy -- like commissioner Bud Selig's -- will forever be stained by his role in baseball's steroid scandal.

Of course Selig and the owners share and equal amount of blame for this black mark in baseball history. They gained financially in the Steroid Era and for a long time, owners didn't want to know or care if their players were on the juice.

But this is a day to focus on the union and Fehr.

For years, the union was on the wrong side of the debate, arguing that drug testing was an invasion of the players' privacy. It was a wrong decision for baseball and it was horrendous decision for the players.

The primary responsibility of any union is to protect its members. That includes making sure they are compensated adequately, have a strong pension and benefits, have safe conditions in the workplace and are protected from criminal activities.

And by fighting against steroid testing, the union allowed its members' health to be put at risk.

Still, Fehr fought tooth and nail to prevent any form of drug test before agreeing to the now infamous 2003 anonymous survey test and weak program that ensued.

Only public outrage and pressure from Congress was able to get Fehr and the union to accept a legit program.

And even with that strong program finally in place, the reality is that not only is the steroids issue not going away any time soon, Fehr and the union are in an untenable situation because of that anonymous 2003 test.

The fate of that list of 104 players who failed that test is in the hands of a federal judge, who is trying to determine if the government can use it in its perjury case against Barry Bonds or if baseball's collective bargaining agreement prevents that list from becoming public.

Already two names -- Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa -- have been leaked, and surely more will come out slowly.

But it's the revelation about Sosa that illustrates just how bad the situation is for the union.

Last week, The New York Times, citing anonymous sources reported Sosa was indeed on the list, and Congress saw fit to review Sosa's testimony to a House committee on performance-enhancing drugs during which he denied ever using PEDs.

To me, it was at that point that union's stand on not releasing the List of 104 no longer had anything do with keeping its players from being embarrassed. The good of the game isn't even a consideration for the union here.

That's because that list is a smoking gun. If made public, that list would be all the government needs to put some of those players in jail for perjury.

In addition to Sosa, Bonds claims he never knowingly used steroids or failed at test. Gary Sheffield told prosecutors a similar story.

Rafael Palmeiro also was at that Congressional hearing in 2004. Shortly after he was busted for steroids, but claimed to have mistakenly taken what he thought were supplements from a teammate's locker.

Roger Clemens is still denying he ever used PEDs, despite a Congressional investigation.

If any of those players tested positive in 2003 and that list becomes public, well, their freedom will be in short supply and I don't think prosecutors will be inclined to show much leniency.

No, this issue is not going to vanish any time soon, but it's not going to be Fehr's problem any more. The Union's general counsel Michael Weiner is expect to succeed Fehr and it will be Weiner's problem to clean up now.

Fehr will just sail off and avoid the limelight as his once sterling legacy grows tarnished.

A History Lesson
After The New York Times story was published, White Sox first baseman dismissed the story because of its use of anonymous sources.




"If the guy actually didn't do anything, he already has been crucified in
public and that's not fair," Konerko said. "I just don't like when stories come
out and really all it is is a rumor. It's just trying to force someone to come
out and say something. I think it's not very American.

"You would think if you were going to run a story, you would have to
say this is who said this so that person could talk. I guess that's lost
somewhere."


The use of anonymous sources is a tricky for newspapers. Most -- and certainly the Times is among them -- have strict standards when it comes to granting anonymity to a source, often getting confirmation of facts from two or three more sources.

They understand the stakes are high because if they are wrong, people get hurt -- as Konerko correctly points out -- and the paper opens itself to a libel suit. And we have seen cases where papers have been wrong -- they are not infallible.

But here's the thing Konerko doesn't understand. The use of anonymous sources goes back decades and is an accepted and legitimate tool in American journalism. To say that it's use is "not very American" reveals Konerko to be rather uneducated in history.

I suggest he read "All The President's Men" -- or if reading is beyond Konerko's capabilities, he can watch the movie (Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford were tremendous). Clearly Konerko has never heard of Watergate and he needs to learn how Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein took down Richard Nixon's presidency using anonymous sources.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Green Power

The signing of Nick Green in the off-season for the low price of $550,000 may have been the best of Theo's moves. The one-time Yankee (hah!) has come through in a big way for the Sox this year. Green's walkoff homer yesterday, giving the Sox a 6-5 over the Braves and a four-game lead in the Al East over the Yankees (hah!) was just the latest example of how valuable he is to Boston.


Imagine a world where Julio Lugo is the full-time shortstop and he's missing ball after ball hit between second and third, or short-arming the throw to first. Where he's up with runners in scoring position and weakly pops up. We've seen glimpses of that once-possible future...and it sucks.


Then you have Green, who has overcome his early fielding jitters and is now making some great plays almost every day. He has an arm like a cannon. For the month of June he has an .844 OPS. For the year, with runners in scoring position and two outs Green is hitting .500 with an 1.196 OPS. If the situation is runners in scoring position with less than two outs, Green is batting .409 and has a 1.054 OPS. Green thrives on the moment and has been nothing short of spectacular for Boston this year.


He's been good enough that when Lowrie comes back, Tito is going to be faced with a hard choice. Yes, Lowrie is the future at the position. But for now, if Green is playing so well, do you really want to take him out of the starting lineup? I think the right play is to keep Green as the nominal starter at short and make Lowrie the utilityman for 2009. Unless Green goes off the deep end, in which case you just swap the two.


And yes, all the above scenarios assume that Lugo has been bought out, traded or demoted. He cannot get out of Boston fast enough for my liking.


Then there is the continuing resurgence of Big Papi. His two-run jack in the first put the Sox up 3-2. He was 2-4 with two runs scored and two RBI. For the month of June, Papi is now batting .308 with a 1.054 OPS. He has five homers, 12 RBI and 10 runs scored. The fact that Ortiz has been able to right himself has afforded the Sox the luxury to do certain things. Things like put Daisuke on the DL and keep Brad Penny.


Yes, the Sox did like I thought they would and they placed Matsuzaka on the 15-day DL. What I didn't expect was for Tito and the brass to intimate that Daisuke would be gone a lot longer. Some people, like Eric Wilbur at boston.com, think you won't see Matsuzaka again until 2010. I think that's a little extreme. If the Sox are really going to keep Daisuke out for an extended period of time, I would guess we see him back on the roster in September. And if he is pitching well again, then the Sox will once again have to decide which pitcher stays and which pitcher goes. But for now, the Sox can roll with Penny and Smoltz in the rotation with Buchholz and Bowden waiting for their chance.


There was one odd thing...the top of the lineup did jack squat in this series. Pedroia, Drew, Youk and Bay went a combined 7-42 (.166) with 6 RBI, five runs scored and five walks. It was an uninspired effort and yet the Sox were able to take two of three from Atlanta. It doesn't hurt that Nick Green is carrying them on his mightly back right now either. But still...it may be time to re-insert Ellsbury at the top of the lineup. He has been seeing the ball better and I think he's ready to do it again. Plus, Pedroia has not been your "ideal" leadoff batter. I think he is much more suited for the second slot. Then keep Youk and Bay in the 3-4 slots and push Drew to sixth behind Papi.


No game tonight as the Sox travel to Washington to open a three-game set tomorrow with the Nationals. Brad Penny will go up against John Lannan. If Lannan's name sounds familiar, that is because his last game was a masterful win over the Yankees in New York. The kid can pitch, so the Sox had best not take him lightly.

Yanks Now Owned By Hess Family

Silly me. I thought George Steinbrenner left control of the Yankees to his sons Hank and Hal.

Maybe they were adopted, because right now they seem more like the sons of Leon Hess.

Remember Leon Hess, the long-time New York Jets owner?

Hess, but all accounts, was a good man, a gentleman. But ask and any Jets fan and they'll tell you he was an awful owner.

Is it possible Hank and Hal are that bad?

The Yankees' season continued to scrape along rock bottom as CC Sabathia left with left biceps tendinitis in the second inning, Brett Tomko blew a two-run lead by surrendering two homers, Melky Cabrera uncorked a wild throw to allow a key run to score and a ninth-inning rally fell short in a 6-5 loss to the Marlins in Miami Sunday in a game the Yankees finished under protest.

The Yankees lost the series to Marlins and went 2-4 four against Florida and the Nationals this week. On June 8, the Yankees stood 11 games over .500 and led the AL East by a game. They've gone 4-8 since, falling four games behind the Red Sox and winning just one series that they really deserved to lose.

The team is a mess, lifeless for long stretches during games, scuffling to play with any confidence, consistency or urgency.

And it's tough to come up with any reason why things will change any time soon.

Once upon a time, the Jets were in a similar situation.

Hess's philosophy was hands-off ... and it created a leadership vacuum for the team. In the mid-to-late 1980s, the Jets under coach Joe Walton developed a tendency to fold in December before finally putting together a miserable 4-12 season in '89.

By that season, Jets fans had enough of the coach and when the team got off to a terrible start, they were begging Hess to fire Walton, chanting, "Joe Must Go!" during home games.

Hess refused to make a move, waiting until the end of the season and infuriating the fans. They knew the team was in trouble and sure enough, it was shutout in its final two home games.

The Yankees appear to be at a crossroads of the season. They have the talent and they are still in the race, but they are foundering, lacking fire and leadership.

With a day off today, the timing is perfect for Hank and Hal to make a move.

But something tells me they won't ... even after this latest debacle.

The game started on a worrisome note with Sabathia giving up a run on Wes Helm's single in the first and then Joe Girardi and trainer Gene Monahan paying Sabathia a visit after he finished his warmup throws in the second.

Jorge Posada had alerted Girardi that something wasn't right with Sabathia, and sure enough Sabathia was having trouble with his left biceps. Once CC gave up a one-out double in the second, Girardi had seen enough and lifted the Yankees' big $161 million investment.

Sabathia is day-to-day, though to tests are scheduled, which is strange. Why not check it out thoroughly just to make sure? Is there any harm in doing that?

Initially, things seemed as if they would work out for the Yankees in this game.

Mr. Versatility Alfredo Aceves pitched 2-2/3 scoreless innings and the Yankees grabbed a 3-1 lead on a two-out, RBI double by Mark Teixeira and a two-run single by Alex Rodriguez, who snapped an 0-for-16 skid.

And then everything unraveled. The offense went silent, getting just one more hit until there were two-outs in the ninth, and the bullpen came apart.

But Tomko (0-2, 6.28 ERA) continued to show he's nothing more than a mopup man, allowing a two-out, two-run homer to Henley Ramirez in the fifth and a two-out, solo shot to Cody Ross in the sixth to give the Marlins a 4-3 lead. It was the first runs allowed by the bullpen in six games.

Girardi did not go to Phil Hughes there because Hughes as going to be the eighth inning guy. Though Brian Bruney did not pitch Saturday, he had warmed up and was not available Sunday. That meant Girardi had to find someone to pitch multiple innings. Tomko couldn't get the job done.

He's has had few good moments with this team and the only reason he wasn't cut when Bruney was activated was because the Yankees still had Jose Veras.

It's quite possible we'll see Edwar Ramirez or Jonathan Albaladejo recalled by Tuesday's game.

The Marlins continued to apply the pressure in the seventh. After Alejandro de Aza popped out in what the Marlins indicated was going to be a double switch, Chris Coghlan singled off Phil Coke.

David Robertson replaced Coke and struck out Helms, but Henley Ramirez followed with a walk before Jorge Cantu lined a single to left to easily score Coghlan. Melky Cabrera charged the ball quickly, fielded it cleanly and released a throw that was well off the line, getting past Posada and rattling around the backstop to allow Ramirez to also score from first and make it 6-3.

The extra run proved costly. The Yankees mounted a two-out rally in the ninth against hard-throwing closer Matt Lindstrom with Posada and Cabrera singling and scoring on Brett Gardner's triple. But after Johnny Damon pinch hit and walked, Jeter swung at the first pitch he saw from Lidstrom and hit into a forceout to end it.

Asked about his lack of patience, Jeter said it was the wrong situation to be patient.



"You can't be too selective with a guy throwing 98," Jeter said.

What?

This is not the first guy they Yankees have faced who throws that hard. And Jeter should know better. He was on those championship teams. Even against the hardest throwers, they were always patient and grinded out tough at-bats. Lindstrom had just thrown four out of five out of the zone. Patience was exactly what Jeter and the Yankees needed there.

Instead Jeter ended the game ... but not exactly.

Girardi played the game under protest because in the eighth, after the Marlins called for that double switch, Coghlan returned to his position in right. After reliever Leo Nunez fired the first pitch of the inning, Girardi pointed the error out to the umps.

The umps huddled for 10 minutes trying to figure out the rule. None of them had ever come across a situation like this and there isn't anything black letter in the rule book. Eventually they ruled de Aza and Coghlan were ineligible and the Marlins inserted Jeremy Hermedia in right, hitting ninth.

But Girardi also wanted Nunez out of the game, too, because he had been inserted into the leadoff spot in the lineup, and when Coghlan went back into the game, the Marlins had two guys hitting first.

Protests are very rarely upheld. The Commissioner's office traditionally doesn't like to overrule the umpires. But given the highly unusual nature of this situation and the lack of any direct precedent or on point rule, there is a fair chance this protest could be upheld.

If it is, the game would revert to the eighth inning with the Yankees trailing 6-3 and Nunez out of the game. However, don't expect this game to resume unless the either team is involved in a tight playoff race late in the season.

But that protest doesn't change that fact that this game currently stands as a loss and the team just is playing terrible baseball.

The team needs a shakeup and Hank and Hal do have options.

They have ample reason to fire Girardi. His in-game strategy has not been as sound as we thought it would be, and he seems to get tight and become reactionary in big games.

He also seems to still have trouble with the veterans in the clubhouse, with Mariano Rivera publicly questioning him when he elected to intentionally walk Even Longoria two weeks ago.

Girardi also does not seem to have a good read on the players (see Rodriguez's bout with fatigue) or a good feel for the clubhouse.

Of course, by firing Girardi, Hank and Hal would also be admitting they made a mistake with Joe Torre.

So if they are going to let their pride get in the way, the next play out of their father's playbook would be to fire pitching coach Dave Eiland and/or hitting coach Kevin Long.

Yes, the Yankees' pitching has been better over the past week, but keep in mind it was against the Nationals and Marlins -- not exactly powerhouse offenses. For most of the year, the pitching has been awful, struggling to throw strikes or give the Yankees' offense a chance.

That offense, meanwhile, is again plodding, waiting for the three-run homer and failing to hit with runners in scoring position. It again struggles to manufacture runs, and it just no long grinds out at-bats and no long makes pitchers work like it did in the championship era.

Yes, this team has load more power that the late-1990s teams, but the current approach is not conducive to long-term success ... it makes us long for Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez and Wade Boggs.

This team needs a change now.

Hank, Hal I'm begging you, please, please make it -- before we change your last name to Hess.

Runners In Scoring Position
Sunday
3-for-6 (.500)
Season
167-for-629 (.266)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
101-for-361 (.280)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Tuesday at Atlanta, 7 p.m., Local TV (check you listings)
Chien-Ming Wang (0-5, 12.30) vs. Tommy Hanson (2-0, 4.08)

Anyone have any faith Wang can snap this two-game skid and get the ship righted? Me neither.