Champions on Display MLB

Friday, July 31, 2009

Not Quite The Deal We Were Expecting

And Brian Cashaman's big, non-waiver trade deadline move Friday was to acquire ...

Jerry Hairston Jr.

Not quite the move we were looking for, but that doesn't mean it's a bad deal or that the Yankees still can't make a move to upgrade their pitching.

The Yankees acquired Hairston, a super utility man, from the Reds for low Class A catcher Chase Weems. It's a nice move. Hairston is clearly an upgrade over Cody Ransom because he can play every infield position and every outfield position. He's also a better and more professional bat.

Hairston, 33, is hitting .254 with eight homers and 27 RBI this season. Ransom is hitting .200 with 10 RBI and figures to be the guy to be replaced by Hairston.

Weems, 20, was selected in the sixth round of the 2007 draft and is not considered among the best Yankees' catching prospects. It's a position where the Yankees are very deep and Weems likely wouldn't have made it to the majors with the Yankees anyway. He was hitting .260 with one homer and 14 RBI in 55 games for Charleston.

The move isn't a difference maker, but it does improve the roster.

But what the Cashman needed to find was a solid starting pitcher.

Sergio Mitre, tonight's starter, just isn't major league-caliber, and with Joba Chamberlain poised to hit his innings limit of around 150 in late August or September, Cashman needed to build some pitching depth.

He lost one potential acquisition early in the day when the Mariners traded Jarrod Washburn to the Tigers for Luke French and a minor league pitcher. That deal illustrates just how hard it is for teams to make deal.

In return for Washburn, the Mariners wanted a young, major league-ready starter. The only guys the Yankees have who fit that bill are Joba and Phil Hughes, which would have been too steep a price to pay for a two-month rental. No one else in the Yankees' minor league system is major league-ready. Remember, Ian Kennedy is recovering from a shoulder aneurysm.

But Luke, who is a good prospect, just came up to the majors and doesn't have quite the high profile of Joba and Hughes. That made him more expendable and made the Tigers a better fit for this trade with the Mariners.

No other starter of note was traded Friday, which might be an indication that some GMs overestimated what the trade market would be leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline.

Of course that doesn't mean deals still can't get done. It just gets more complicated with players having to pass through waivers and teams being able to block trades.

But Cashman has been steadfast in believing that there will be a lot of waiver deals. If he's right, the price on these guys should come down. Hopefully other GMs will no longer be looking for major league-ready prospects in exchange for the likes of Bronson Arroyo, Jon Garland or Brian Bannister.

So while the Red Sox did make a major move in acquiring Victor Martinez from the Indians without giving up Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden of Daniel Bard (what was Cleveland thinking?), Yankees fans shouldn't be too upset.

The Yankees are in first in the AL East with the league's best record and there still is plenty of time to fortify the pitching staff.

Tighten Up That Defense

With the non-waiver trade deadline in its last few hours, I'm going to keep this brief. The Mariners have already traded Jarrod Washburn today to the Tigers for pitcher Luke French and another pitching prospect.

Sometimes you're going to get beat and that's OK. But it's hard to accept a loss when your defense gives the game away, as it did in the Yankees' 3-2 loss to the White Sox at Chicago Thursday. The Yankees are now 2-1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East.

After the Yankees tied the score at 1 on Johnny Damon's one-out single in the sixth, the defense fell apart.

The White Sox grabbed the lead back in the seventh when Andy Pettitte slipped on the grass while trying to pick up a dribbler for an error. After Paul Konerko struck out, A.J. Pierzynski hit a grounder to third that Alex Rodriguez let deflect off his glove for a "single."

Phil Hughes then came on and got Carlos Quentin to hit a double play grounder to third, but Robinson Cano couldn't get off a good relay, the wild throw diving into the dirt and past Mark Teixeira at for for an error allowing Thome to score, giving the White Sox a 2-1 lead.

Nick Swisher tied it up again in the ninth, depositing a Matt Thornton fastball into the stands in left, but the defense struck again in the bottom half. With one out, Thome hit a routine grounder that would have been an out again most players. The Yankees, however, were in a shift and the ball rolled into center.

Konerko singled Thome to second and Joe Girardi when to Phil Coke to get out of the inning. He got Pierzynski to fly to center, but Dwayne Wise, who is hitting .193, grounded a ball to center to bring in the winner.

Pettitte deserved much better. He allowed two runs -- one earned -- on five hits in 6-1/3 innings. He struck out eight and threw 71 of 101 pitches for strikes. He hasn't won since July 1, but has been pitching well since the All-Star break. If he continues to pitch like that, he's going to rack up a bunch of wins this half. He's frustrated, but he just needs to grind it out and stay confident.

Meanwhile, Phil Hughes allowed a run on two hits in two innings, his scoreless streak getting snapped at 23 innings.

Peter Abraham has a pretty good observation about Hughes. It appears as if the Yankees may be stretching him back out, maybe to replace Joba Chamberlain in the rotation when Joba's innings limit is hit. In his last three outings, Hughes threw 35 pitches in two innings Thursday, 39 in 1-1/3 innings on July 26 and 28 in two innings July 23.

But this game was lost because of shoddy defense on the infield. There won't be a trade coming to fix that. It just a matter of focus, paying attention to details and execution.

Runners In Scoring Position
1-for-8 (.125)
248-for-948 (.262)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
32-for-129 (.248)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
183-for-676 (.271)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Friday at White Sox, 8:11 p.m., YES
Sergio Mitre (1-0, 5.91 ERA) vs. Clayton Richard (4-3, 4.65)

With Mitre on the mound the offense had better get cranked up and the bullpen will have to be at its best. Hopefully Brian Cashman will be able to land someone before the deadline so that we don't have to see Mitre again. Washburn is gone, but Bronson Arroyo, Jon Garland and Zach Duke still remain as possibilities.

Andro Rears Its Ugly Head...Again

And to think this all started 11 years ago when a sports reporter saw a container in Mark McGwire's locker labeled "Andro." Now, after all the allegations, revelations and disappointments, we are back to where we started.

In a story in the Boston Herald, Cincinnati pitcher Bronson Arroyo, a member of the 2004 Red Sox, said he wouldn't be surprised if he were on the list as well. And why? You guessed it...

Arroyo, who pitched for the Red Sox from 2003 to 2005, said he took androstenedione, which was banned in 2004, as well as amphetamines, which were banned in 2006, according to the Herald report. He said he gave up taking andro, a steroid precursor, when a rumor spread through baseball that due to lax production standards, some of it was laced with steroids.

Mandatory testing for performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball began in 2004.

"Before 2004, none of us paid any attention to anything we took," he said, according to the Herald. "Now they don't want us to take anything unless it's approved. But back then, who knows what was in stuff? The FDA wasn't regulating stuff, not unless it was killing people or people were dying from it."

Even after the storm that arose from McGwire's use of andro, players used it for six more years before MLB finally grew a pair and banned the stuff. And Arroyo's claim that the andro was tainted is not some pie-in-the-sky claim. Hell, just last week in the New York Times there was an article on two dietary supplements that contained illegal steroids.

The supplements, Tren Xtreme and Mass Xtreme, are manufactured by American Cellular Labs and marketed as a “potent legal alternative to” steroids. But authorities alleged in search warrants executed on Thursday that the supplements contain illegal man-made steroids, also known as designer steroids. One of the substances is Madol, which was first identified six years ago during the investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative.

Six years ago...that would be 2003, right?

And these charges come at a time of enhanced scrutiny when it comes to health supplements. Compared to now, the time period between 1998-2003 was akin to the Wild West.

None of this, none of it, is to make excuses for David Ortiz, A-Rod or any other athlete who tested positive. It is your responsibility to know what goes into your body. And if Ortiz's source of a positive test was tainted andro, then shame on him. After the McGwire flap, every ballplayer should have known better than to mess with that crap. And should have known taking andro was cheating, plain and simple.

I guess what is stunning to me in all of this is how cavalier all the players sound about taking these things. Arroyo is completely unapologetic for taking Andro. Ortiz theorizes his positive test was linked to a protein drink he had in the Dominican Republic. A-Rod concocted that fairy tale about his cousin getting him "boli" and not knowing what it was.

I said yesterday that ballplayers aren't - and shouldn't be - heroes. But the hard truth is that they are to a lot of kids. My son idolizes Ortiz. Aviv's son likes Jeter (who, thank god, appears to be clean so far). Other kids idolize other players. And the players have a responsibility to recognize that. It comes part and parcel with the uniform, the glove and the big, fat check.

I'm glad that Arroyo is being honest and Papi is facing the music...but would a little damn contrition hurt? You cheated. Parse it any way you want but that is still the bottom line. Do kids really need to hear that "I took it. I loved it. I stopped because I heard it contained something that would get me in trouble."? The implication is that if it wasn't for the rumor of steroids, Arroyo would have merrily continued taking Andro.

The entire period of 1997-2007 should be a wash. I don't know what should be done about it. Maybe a special room needs to be built in the Hall of Fame. In the basement. With only one bare light bulb illuminating the room.

And in the room lining the walls will be the plaques of every player tainted with PEDs who was voted into the HoF. But they get no ceremony and no speech. They just get a plaque hung in a dingy room in the basement.

It's more than they deserve.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dark Shadows Come Into The Light

In watching Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz mash homer after homer between 2003-2008 for the Red Sox, there was always the rumor of performance-enhancing drugs fueling their power. It was the little voice in the back of the brain of every Boston fan that spoke to our worst fear.

They're cheaters.

Before the 2009 season started, Manny Ramirez failed a drug test for PEDs. That tainted Sword of Damocles hung by a thin hair over the faith Boston fans had in their other Goliath. Surely, we hoped against hope, Big Papi was clean.

Sadly, that faith may have been misplaced

Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz were among the 104 major league players listed as having tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, lawyers with knowledge of the results told The New York Times.

The two were key members of the Boston Red Sox World Series championship teams in 2004 and 2007.

Ortiz declined comment to The Times.

Manny's name being on here is no surprise in the wake of his suspension this year. But to see Papi's name is a crushing blow to Boston fans. And it's a lesson as well.

It's a lesson in hubris. We all enjoyed mocking the Yankees for their legion of PED users that fueled their 1998-2000 World Series run. Now we have to face the fact that PED users likely fueled our two titles in 2004 and 2007. Karma is a right bitch.

It's also a lesson in treating ballplayers as heroes. My son loves David Oritz. Now I have to explain to him at some point that this lovable guy who is known for mashing the ball out of the park likely used PEDs. These guys are not heroes; they play a game for a living and get paid a lot for it. That doesn't make them any better than the rest of humanity.

So what is the fallout? For Manny, I doubt there will be any. He was already tainted with the mark of a cheater. And Los Angeles' fanbase is fickle as hell and doesn't care about stuff like this.

But for Ortiz? I don't know if Boston's fans will be as forgiving. If we are, then we are nothing more than hypocrites after slagging guys like A-Rod and Clemens. If those guys are cheaters and deserving of our scorn, then so is Ortiz...if the report is true.

That is really the one gray area here. Clemens was caught out with paraphernalia and testimony about his use. A-Rod was caught out as well and had to admit his usage. That hasn't happened yet for Ortiz. But that is a faint hope at best. All the other names that have leaked have been accurate. Why should this instance be any different?

Today is a dark day in Boston. And there is no way around that.

Update: There is something else that this report makes clear. We cannot continue to have these names leak out. It was unfair to the players named before Manny and Ortiz as much as it is unfair now. We have gotten to the point where all these names have to be released so we can have a full and fair accounting. Release all the names and let the chips fall where they may.

The Great Joba Debate Is DEAD

Starter or Reliever? There can be no doubt anymore, and I'm declaring the Joba debate over.

Not only is Joba Chamberlain a starter, he is as dominant and dynamic as he was as a reliever.

And anyone watching Joba's last three starts would have a hard time arguing otherwise.

Joba allowed three hits in eight, shutout innings Wednesday and the Yankees beat the Rays 6-2 in Tampa to move 3-1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East and put a nail in the coffin of the defending AL champion Rays, who are 7-1/2 games back and fading.

The Yankees are 62-39 for the season, tied with Joe Torre's Dodgers for the best record in the majors. They've gone 18-7 in July.

So Dave, with the Yankees' bullpen also having solidified into a formidable unit with the development of Phil Hughes, it is time for to say five little words:

"I was wrong about Joba."

In his three starts since the All-Star break, Joba is 3-0 with a 0.83 ERA and 0.74 WHIP. He has struck out 19 and is averaging 7.2 innings a start.

And this isn't just about a good stretch for the kid. Something has clicked with this 23-year-old fireballer and as a result he has taken a giant leap in his development.

He's working faster, challenging hitters with his fastball, showing impeccable control with all his pitches and showing his emotions.

"It's just having confidence again, going out and being yourself," Chamberlain said. "You always need a little reminder once in a while, but it's just going back to having fun and being aggressive."

And Wednesday he was nearly unhittable. He walked two, struck out five and threw 65 of 101 pitches for strikes.

You read right: He threw just 101 pitches in eight innings. Pitchers don't get much more efficient than that.

Joba retired all eight leadoff batters he faced and retired the side in order four times. The only trouble he ran into came in the fifth when he issued one-out and two-out walks.

"In my eyes," said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, "that's probably the best I've seen him."

The only troublesome note for Joba was that he nearly started a beanball war. With two outs in the fourth, he threw a pitch around the head of Evan Longoria. Rays starter Matt Garza responded in the fifth by hitting Mark Teixeira, something he admitted to doing on purpose.

I won't get on Garza. He has to protect his players. This is Joba's fault. I have no problem with him pitching in or coming up-and-in to intimidate batters, but he has to keep the ball away from batters' heads. That's basic and that's something he has to learn very soon.

In any case, Joba (7-2, 3.58 ERA) was so dominant that it made it easy for the offense to pick apart Garza, who allowed just three runs on eight hits in seven innings.

Derek Jeter led off the game with a triple and scored on Teixeira's one-out single to get the Yankees off to a fast start.

The Yankees pushed across another run in the fourth when Alex Rodriguez led off with a single and went to third on Hideki Matsui's double. After Jorge Posada popped out, Robinson Cano brought in A-Rod with a groundout to second.

Joba received a little more breathing room in the sixth when Robinson Cano crushed a two-out homer to right, and the Yankees made it 4-0 in the eighth, when Jorge Posada singled in Matsui, who had reached on an infield single and advanced to second on a throwing error.

The Yankees poured it on in the ninth when Melky Cabrera led off with a homer to right and Teixeira hit a two-out homer to center.

The only down note of the night came in the night when Brian Bruney took a step back in his battle to regain his form. Bruney allowed a leadoff triple to Carl Crawford, a two run-homer to Longoria to left and a one-out double to Carlos Pena before being remove. Mariano Rivera walked one and struck out two to finish off the game.

But no one cares about that.

Joba has set this team abuzz.

Runners In Scoring Position
2-for-10 (.200)
247-for-940 (.263)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
31-for-121 (.256)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
182-for-668 (.272)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Thursday at White Sox, 8:11 p.m., YES
Andy Pettitte (8-6, 4.67) vs. Gavin Floyd (8-6, 4.24)

Pettitte pitched six brilliant innings before coming apart against the A's in his last start Saturday and is desperate for a victory. He has not earned a W since July 1, though he pitched brilliantly in his first start after the break in a no-decision.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Changing Landscape

Just like that, baseball's trading season has kicked into high gear.

First the fading Mariners surprised everyone Wednesday by acquiring shortstop Jack Wilson and starter Ian Snell from the Pirates for shortstop Ronny Cedeno and four minor leaguers.

Then the Phillies agreed to a deal for defending AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee, 30, and outfielder Ben Francisco from the Indians for four minor leagues. None of the players the Phillies gave up were named Kyle Drabek or J.A. Happ and the trade is pending physicals.

And of course, both deals impact the Yankees and Sox.

The Mariners have been struggling, falling 7-1/2 games behind the Angels in the AL West. It was assumed the Mariners would become sellers and look to unload Jarrod Washburn. It also was assumed the Yankees would be in the bidding for the lefty.

It appears we assumed wrong. At first blush, it appeared the Mariners made this deal to acquire Snell, who is 27 and has a load of potential, but has struggled and was at Triple-A. Taking Wilson was nothing more than taking on a salary dump.

But Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik says that's not the case. He made the deal to get Wilson, who is 31 and has been injury prone and average at best when he's played.

If Zduriencik is telling the truth, it's a foolish move. The Mariners are going nowhere this season. But who knows? He could be trying to protect the trade value of Washburn by not being entirely forthcoming. We'll see.

Until the Mariners' intentions become clearer, it appears the Yankees will have to search elsewhere for a starter. The Reds' Bronson Arroyo and Diamondbacks' Jon Garland would fill the Yankees' need, but as I wrote earlier, GM Brian Cashman is very good and moving under the radar. He could come up with someone no one is expecting.

The Yankees did make a minor trade Wednesday, acquiring righthander Jason Hirsch for a player to be named and assigning him to Triple A.

Meanwhile, the Phillies made a great move. They got a top of the rotation pitcher without giving up their No. 1 prospect. That's not to say that they didn't give up a lot, but when you can get a defending Cy Young Award winner without giving up a top prospect such as Drabek, you've done something right.

So it would seem that the Red Sox are now the front-runners for the Blue Jays' Roy Halladay.

Well, not quite.

The New York Post is reporting that Jays' Ricciardi believes he's going to end up keeping Halladay because he hasn't been wowed by a deal by anyone. Ricciardi is still trying to hit the lottery with this deal and ESPN's Buster Olney reported things are now quiet on the Halladay trade front.

It would seem the Jays overplayed their hand for Halladay and are going to come away with nothing.

But that does not mean the Sox will come away with nothing. With the Indians clearly becoming sellers, the Sox are front and center in trade talks for All-Star catcher Victor Martinez.

Martinez would give the Sox a much-needed bat, but there is little known about what the Indians would want in exchange for the switch-hitter. Talk on WFAN in New York also has the Mets show interest in Martinez.

Two trades, one day, and baseballs landscape has changed dramatically.

A Bad Day All Around

Tuesday started poorly and just got worse from there.

The Yankees played their worst game since before the All-Star break in a 6-2 loss to the Rays in Tampa, revealed Alfredo Aceves has a tired arm and learned Chien-Ming Wang need surgery and likely won't be able to pitch until late next year.

Talk about a trifecta of bad news.

About the only thing that went right was that the Red Sox blew a lead in the ninth and lost to the A's 9-8 to remain 2-1/2 games back of the Yankees in the AL East. Otherwise it was a day to forget.

Wang's news is not surprising -- visits to Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., rarely result in good news -- but it was nonetheless disappointing. The Yankees entered the year counting on Wang to give them a solid 1-2-3 combination at the top of the rotation with CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. The Yankees believed they had the foundation for a strong rotation for years to come.

Instead, Wang struggled from the start, clearly not fully recovered from his Lisfranc injury from the year before. He rehabbed and came back before going back on the DL with a shoulder strain. Is it possible the shoulder injury is the result of compensating for the foot injury? Very possible.

But the loss of Wang means the Yankees are almost assuredly going to try to acquire another pitcher, likely a starter -- though not Roy Halladay. Jarrod Washburn and Bronson Arroyo have been mention as targets and the Westchester Journal News' Peter Abraham suggested Jon Garland on his blog. All would work, but GM Brian Cashman is pretty good at working steathly, so don't be surprised if he comes up with a deal for someone no has even considered.

Meanwhile, Aceves revealed he has a tired arm. He said he's not feeling pain or discomfort, just tired. If that is accurate, it's not terrible news. Aceves has emerged as a valuable and versatile member of the bullpen, but the Yankees can give him a week so that he can regain his strength. But any time a pitcher says anything is wrong with his arm, no matter how minor, there is cause for concern. Time will tell how serious this is.

And then there was the game. With a chance to stick the defending AL Champion Rays in the coffin, the Yankees allowed them to remain on life support.

It was a miserable game, filled with errors and poor defense, ineffective hitting, bad baserunning and a poor starting performance by Sabathia. Heck the Yankees even let a six-inning pitcher in Scott Kazmir pitch into the eighth.

Sabathia (10-7, 3.83) was hurt by errors by Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, misplays in right by Nick Swisher and his own failure to cover first on an infield hit, but he also struggled with his fastball command again and couldn't put away hitters when he got to 0-and-2 and 1-and-2 on them.

The Yankees are 11-11 are in Sabathia's starts and the big lefthander, who was the Yankees' big offseason free-agent prize, knows that isn't cutting it.

“It is annoying. No matter whether I get the win or not, you want to go out and try to help the team any way you can and it’s pretty frustrating that I’ve been
going out there and not helping us,” he said.

The Rays grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second when Dioner Navarro's sacrifice fly to center brought in Ben Zobrist after a single and two walks loaded the bases. They pushed across two more in the third when B.J. Upton singled to lead off and scoring on Carl Crawford's triple. Even Longoria brought in Crawford when A-Rod made a bad throw to first.

The Yankees, meanwhile, couldn't get to Scott Kazmir, who benefited from several nice defensive plays, but was efficient and effective.

Kazmir allowed one run on five hits and one walk in 7+ innings. He threw 72 of 113 pitches for strikes.

The only serious trouble he faced came in the fourth when Mark Teixeira led off with a double and scored on Hideki Matsui's one-out single to make it 3-1. However, Matsui was thrown out on the play after making too wide of a turn around first.

Sabathia, meanwhile, just couldn't settle down. In his recent starts he's been able to limit any damage and give the Yankees a chance to win. Tuesday he couldn't do that.

In the fifth inning, Longoria hit a two-out homer to make a 4-1. Sabathia the came apart in the sixth.

With one out, Gabe Kapler doubled and went to third on a ground out. Jason Bartlett then hit a routine grounder to first, but Sabathia failed to cover and Bartlett beat Teixeira to the bag for hit and RBI. Upton then crushed a double to bring in Bartlett to make it 6-1 and Sabathia's day was done.

Sabathia allowed six runs -- five earned -- on nine hits and two walked in 5-2/3 innings. He struck out six and threw 69 of 109 pitches for strikes.

Mark Melancon, getting into a game for the first time since the All-Star break, was the long bright spot, escaped the jam in the sixth and allowing just one hit over the next two innings. He struck out two.

The Yankees scored a meaningless run in the ninth when A-Rod singled with two outs, went to second in defensive indifference and scored on Matsui's double.

It was a day the Yankees need to forget about quickly.

Runners In Scoring Position
2-for-7 (.286)
245-for-930 (.263)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
29-for-111 (.261)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
180-for-658 (.274)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Wednesday at Rays, 7:08 p.m., YES
Joba Chamberlain (6-2, 3.86) vs. Matt Garza (7-7, 3.68)

Joba has been on fire coming out of the break and the Yankees need him to come up big again. This is a big game. A win by the Yankees would put the Rays 7-1/2 games back in the East and deal a blow to their playoff homes. A Yankees loss could get the Rays back in the race.

Rough Loss

If you were curious as to why some people have been spazzing out over Papelbon as the closer this year, last night should give you some insight as to why that is happening.

I am not one of those people. I am a little concerned by his escalating WHIP (now at 1.37), but his saves are high and his blown saves are actually down from last year so far. The simple truth is that some games get away from you. It happens to great teams and great closers. I think 2004 taught us a lesson in that.

This isn't to say we can't be disappointed. Papelbon wasted a great offensive effort from the lineup. Ellsbury continued his multi-hit game streak, which now stands at five games. Youk went 3-5 with a pair of RBI. Even Drew decided to show up, going 3-5 and scoring a pair of runs. The bats continue to explode.

Nor is it all Papelbon's fault. All he did was blow the save; it was Delcarmen that gave up the winning run. The only relief pitcher that didn't look bad last night was Bard. But as I said before, there will be games like this. The trick is not to avoid being disappointed, but to keep from extrapolating a bad game across the rest of the season.

Which is why I am avoiding sports radio today. Would anyone like to wager that people will call in today saying that Boston needs help in the pen? Or that Papelbon needs to be traded? Or that now, NOW, we desperately need Jack Wilson to come in.

This has to be addressed as well. Nick Green picked a hell of a time to catch another bout of Error-itis. But the bottom line is that since May he has been one of the best shortstops in the AL. Jack Wilson is not some kind of massive upgrade at the position. Yes, Green made two ill-timed and ill-executed throws that contributed directly to Boston's loss. But that doesn't mean Theo should make some kind of panic move.

And none of this changes the fact that Boston still has one of the best bullpens in the game. So everyone needs to take a collective breath and chill out. We're still just 2.5 back of New York, we are firmly in the wild-card driver's seat and there is plenty of baseball to be played. If this keeps happening, then you may panic.

As for trade talk, Gordon Edes revamped his original story about Halladay and Boston's pursuit of him. The new take on the possible trade has the Sox offering Buchholz, one of Masterson, Bowden or Lars Anderson, and some lesser prospects to fill out the deal. Also, there would be no third team involved.

I'm still on board with this. Anderson, for as much potential as he has, is expendable because of guys like Aaron Bates and Anthony Rizzo in the system. I'd hate to lose either Masterson or Bowden. But if Bowden goes then we keep Masterson where he is. And if Masterson goes then the Sox would likely slot Bowden into his position. The "lesser prospects" thing sometimes worries me because you'll think your team made out well and then you see some Top 20 prospect on the list and you almost throw up in your mouth. But as it stands, this would still be a deal that the Sox could do and not lose a lot of depth from their farm system.

The Sox have also been sniffing around Cliff Lee. But, as with all these rumors, who knows what to believe. We won't know for sure until the deadline comes and goes.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

And Now I Contradict Myself

There is a story by Gordon Edes from Yahoo Sports making the round about an offer by the Red Sox for Roy Halladay. What is interesting about it is the players mentioned.

This is a much different story than what we've been hearing up to now.

The Boston Red Sox have offered at least three players – no-hit pitcher Clay Buchholz, Triple-A pitching prospect Michael Bowden and top outfield prospect Ryan Westmoreland – to the Toronto Blue Jays for ace Roy Halladay, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations. Because the Blue Jays, who are vigorously shopping Marco Scutaro, are also looking for a shortstop, the Red Sox may be trying to draw a third team into negotiations to satisfy Toronto’s need.

Up to now, I have been against the Sox trading for Roy Halladay because of his age, money issues and the talent the Sox would have to surrender. But if this is the deal...if all it would take was Buchholz, Bowden and Westmoreland and a third team (which Theo is a master at)...

I say pull the trigger.

I have never been 100% sold on Buchholz, who has all the talent in the world but still doesn't seem to have his head on right. Bowden is a talent, so I kind of wish we wouldn't lose him*. And Westmoreland has all the potential in the world...but is only 19. If this is what the Sox have to surrender...why wouldn't you do the deal?

And look at who isn't mentioned in the deal:

  • Daniel Bard
  • Justin Masterson
  • Lars Anderson
  • Casey Kelly
  • Junichi Tazawa
  • Josh Reddick
  • Yamacio Navarro

The only guy here I would even consider moving is Anderson, and that's because guys like Aaron Bates and Anthony Rizzo are in system.

As much as the Sox need a bat (and they do), to acquire Halladay for relatively little would be a coup. And the Sox could absorb the salary demands of both Halladay and Beckett after 2010. Or they could let Halladay walk and get those two first-round picks.

The only downside is that it would leave the Sox a little thin in immediate in-system pitching help (although long-term this isn't an issue). Masterson would be the only guy who could step in right away. Although, with Tazawa getting promoted to Pawtucket today, we could see him next year as a possible injury substitute. But for now it would be Masterson and anyone you can find. one can deny that Roy Halladay is a talent. And one must admit his last two starts have been impressive (two earned runs and 17 strikeouts in two complete games). And a rotation that fronted Beckett, Halladay and Lester would give opponents fits. And there is the fact that Halladay is 16-5 against the Yankees in his career.

I'm almost convincing myself about this.

I still believe a player like Adrian Gonzalez addresses a larger need for the Sox. But for a deal like this, if this is really all the Sox would be giving up among their top tier talent, I don't see how you can skip on Halladay.


* I wonder if this trade is coming about in part because of reports that Sox brass are down on Bowden at the moment. I don't know that I agree with that (he had a rough June but has bounced back well). But if Boston thinks he isn't a 1 or 2 anymore, that would definitely make him more available.

Applying The Pressure

The Yankees took care of business on their recent homestand. Monday they began process of putting the pressure on the other American League playoff contenders.

A.J. Burnett allowed one unearned run and two hits in seven dominant innings, and Nick Swisher powered a relentless attack with two homers to lead the Yankees to an 11-4 victory over the Rays in Tampa, Fla. It was the Yankees' 10th win in 11 games, keeping them 2-1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East and dropping the defending AL champion Rays 7-1/2 games back.

The Yankees went 9-1 on their recent homestand, beating up on the last-place Orioles and A's, though they did sweep the first three games against the AL Central leading Tigers, beating All-Stars Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson along the way.

Monday they began a nine-game trip, part of a 19 of 26 on the road that will feature games against contenders such as the Rays, White Sox and Red Sox, and includes a seven-game trip to Oakland and Seattle. It's clearly a tough stretch for the team that also provides it the opportunity to create a little separation from the pack.

"We left home after a good homestand and we're in a good spot right now," Burnett said. "But you can tell from these guys that we're not content. We want to keep going and keep winning and see how far we can go."

Burnett (10-4, 3.53 ERA) got the trip off on the right foot, continuing his recent stretch of outstanding starts. He walked two, struck out five and threw 69 of 114 pitches for strikes.

More importantly, Tampa couldn't touch him. Burnett retired all seven leadoff hitters he faced and once he got to two strikes on batters, he got them out 81 percent of the time. It was as if once a batter got to two strikes, he could just turn around and head to the dugout.

Burnett won his fifth straight decision and is unbeaten in six straight starts. Since losing to Boston on June 9, he is 6-1 with a 1.84 ERA and he now won at least 10 games in a season for five straight years.

The only threat Burnett had to face all night was in the sixth when B.J. Upton reached on a passed ball after striking out to lead off, went to third on Carl Crawford's single and scored when Even Longoria hit into a double play to make it 5-1.

And by that point, the offense was just getting cranked up.

The Yankees jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second when Hideki Matsui led off with a single to right and actually scored on Jorge Posada's double. Robinson Cano followed with a triple, marking the second consecutive game he's had a big hit with runner in scoring position early in a game. He scored on Swisher's groundout.

Cano and Swisher made it 5-0 in the sixth, hitting back-to-back homers to start the innings. The Yankees just poured it on from there.

"We wanted to make sure we took the first one," Swisher said. "After the break, I think the one thing we stressed was come out of the gate good, and that's what we're doing. We feel confident, and I'll tell you what, if we keep playing like this, it's going to be a really, really, fun season."

The Yankees made it 7-1 in the eighth on Alex Rodriguez's two-out, two-run double, allowing the Yankees to rest the key members of the bullpen. Jonathan Albaladejo struggled in the bottom half, allowing two runs on two hits and one walk, but David Robertson got out a two-out jam, and allowed just Pat Burrell's homer in the ninth to pick up the save.

The Yankees finished off the Rays in the ninth when Swisher hit his second homer, a shot to left, before Johnny Damon crushed a three-run shot, the 200th of his career.

Were the Yankees sending Tampa a message with those tack-on runs?

"We worry about winning series. We don't worry about sending messages," manager Joe Girardi said. "For us, we wanted to get this road trip, it's a long road trip, off
on the right start and we did."

They might not have been sending a message, but they certainly were applying the pressure.

Trade Talk
The Yankees' latest possible trade target is quite familiar to Yankees fans. SI's Jon Heyman reported the Yankees have once again inquired about acquiring Jarrod Washburn. Heyman also reported the Yankees also could go after the Reds' Bronson Arroyo.

The Yankees discussed a trade for Washburn at the deadline, but talks fell apart because the Mariners were asking for the Yankees' top prospect for a pitcher who was struggling and had 1-1/2 years left on a back-loaded contract.

Washburn, a lefty, will be a free agent will in the offseason and it will be interesting to see what the Mariners ask for this time. It should be noted that they changed GMs during the offseason. If the price is right, the Yanks would love to get their hands on another left with World Series experience.

Runners In Scoring Position
3-for-12 (.250)
243-for-923 (.263)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
27-for-104 (.260)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
178-for-651 (.273)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Tuesday at Rays, 7:08 p.m., Local TV (check your listings)
CC Sabathia (10-6, 3.67) vs. Scott Kazmir (4-6, 6.69)

Let's see Sabathia come out a give a dominant effort against a lefty in Kazmir who is having a rough season, but is capable of shutting down the Yankees.

Ace High

Last night Josh Beckett spearheaded Boston's 8-3 trouncing of the Athletics. In doing so he also became the American League's first 12-game winner of 2009. Just another night on the mound for Boston's resident ace.

His line doesn't reflect how dominant he was; three runs on eight hits in seven innings. But Beckett struck out ten batters while walking just one. He threw 75% of his pitches for strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 70% of the batters he faced. His ten strikeouts match his season-high, which he set in his first game of the year. It was another dominant performance from Beckett and it shows that he lost nothing over the All-Star break.

Right now Beckett leads the AL in wins, is third in complete games (3), fifth in strikeouts (127) and win percentage (.750) and seventh in WHIP (1.15). Beckett has gone from looking like he was shot at the end of April into a position where he should once again be in the mix for a Cy Young Award.

After Beckett left in the seventh, Bard and Delcarmen pitched a strong inning each to close the game out. Bard did allow one run to cross (charged to Beckett) but looked strong in striking out two of the four batters he faced. And Delcarmen put the side down in the ninth with relative ease. Both these guys have been mentioned in trade rumors as the deadline approaches. I'd hate to see either of them go; they are the validation of Theo's approach to building the bullpen. Mostly homegrown guys leavened with the occasional free agent signing or trade is a plan that works, be it the pen or the team in general.

From the plate, the big story is the continuing re-emergence of Jacoby Ellsbury as a leadoff batter. He's had two or more hits in his last four games, three RBI and a run scored. He looks more comfortable at the plate and is making solid contact; of his nine hits in the last four games, four have been for extra bases. It's no mistake that the Sox have won three of these four games. Having the leadoff batter on base completely changes the way an opposing pitcher approaches the lineup.

It also doesn't hurt that Pedroia has had a scorching July. Last night he went 2-4 with a solo shot in the first inning. For the month he is hitting .366 with an 1.021 OPS.

And let's give a hand to newcomer Adam LaRoche, who is proving that he is indeed a second-half monster. In his first three games in Boston he is 5-12 with three RBI and a home run. He slots in very nicely on the backside of the lineup. The Sox now have a productive backup at first, which is a nice luxury to have.

Boston has three more at home with the Athletics before going on a rough AL East roadtrip that culminates with four against the Yankees in the Bronx from Aug. 6-9. Suffice it to say, that series has become very important to both teams. But as for tonight, Clay Buchholz gets his third start and goes against Vin Mazarro, Mazarro is 2-7 with a 4.75 ERA over 10 starts. He got his last win on June 7th and one would like to think the Sox will tee off on this guy. Of course, one would have liked to think that the Sox would have at least taken two games in Texas. And we all know how that turned out. So let's hope the Sox continue to press the opposition from the start. A couple of runs in the first innings matched with a strong start from Buchholz should set the table for another Boston win.

As for trades...who knows? Depending on whom you read at any one time, the Sox are:

  • Doing nothing
  • Emptying the farm for Halladay
  • Are staying away from Halladay
  • Are in on Cliff Lee
  • Are in on Victor Martinez
  • Are in on Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez
  • Are pursuing Adrian Gonzalez

In the end, I think there will be a trade made. But as Tito said the other day, they are bouncing around names we aren't even thinking, not Hanley Ramirez. Don't even start that foolishness.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Count On The Captain

Derek Jeter didn't deliver in one second-and-third, one-out situation and he wasn't about miss another opportunity.

With the Yankees trailing by one in the sixth, Jeter lined a two-run single to center to propel the Yankees to a 7-5 victory over the A's Sunday at Yankee Stadium. The victory moved the Yanks 2-1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East and completed a 9-1 homestand.

They Yankees will play 19 of their next 28 games on the road, including a nine-game, 10-day trip that begins today in Tampa.

"We made a big leap on Boston coming right off the All-Star break, and we're playing some great ball. To go 9-1 on a home stand right after the break is pretty awesome," Brian Bruney said. "We're playing good right now and we just need to keep going."
Most of the wins on the home stand have been built on outstanding starting pitching, but the Yankees needed their bats to deliver them Sunday.

Sergio Mitre was mediocre at best, pitching into the sixth, allowing four runs on nine hits, and Phil Coke was not as sharp as usual, serving up a two-out, two-run homer to left by Mark Ellis to give the A's a 5-4 lead.

The offense, however, wasn't about to be deterred.

With one out in the bottom half of the sixth, Melky Cabrera walked and Cody Ransom doubled to set up Jeter.

Two innings earlier, Jeter was in the exact same spot -- one out, runners on second and third and a chance to a chance to expand on a 4-3 lead. He flew out to shallow right before Johnny Damon popped to second.

Jeter has a well-earned reputation for being a clutch player. That doesn't mean he comes through every time, but when he gets multiple opportunities in one game to get a run in, you can bet he'll deliver at least once.

Given the a second chance, Jeter gave the Yankees the lead for good before getting picked off for the second out. Damon, though, followed with a double and Mark Teixeira singled him in to give the Yankees a 7-5 lead.

From there it was academic as the bullpen, which has been dominant since Phil Hughes emergence as the eighth-inning man closed it out.

Hughes came on in the seventh and struck out three in 1-1/3 innings before allowing a walk and a double in the eighth. Bruney got a big strikeout in a big spot before Mariano Rivera got the last four outs for his 29th save and 25th in a row.

Hughes has not allowed a run in his last 16 appearances, spanning 23-1/3 innings. He's reminding me of what Rivera did as John Wetteland's setup man in 1996. Just don't count on him to remain in the bullpen long-term. The Yankees believe he'll be a top-flight starter and he'll likely replace Andy Pettitte in the rotation next season.

But that's next season.

That the outcome of this game rested on the shoulders of the offense is no surprise. Mitre was in trouble from the start.

Orlando singled with one out in the first, stole second and scored on Scott Hairston's double. Jack Cust then singled to put runners on the corners and Mitre was staring at a disastrous first. Kurt Suzuki gave the A's a 2-0 lead with a single, but Mitre got Ryan Sweeney and Daric Barton to ground out to escape the threat.

The offense didn't waste any time getting the runs back on the strength of two, two-out hits. Jeter singled to lead off and went to second on Damon's walk. But after Teixeira struck out and Jorge Posada popped out, it looked like this would be another wasted opportunity.

Hideki Matsui, though, got Jeter in with a single. Nick Swisher then walked to load the bases before Robinson Cano, who has been beyond awful with runners in scoring position all season, lined a double into the gap in right that scored all three runners. Cano was thrown out a third on the play, but the Yankees had a 4-2 lead.

Mitre gave one back in the fourth on Ellis' sacrifice fly, but you just knew the A's didn't have enough fire power in this game.

They gave the Captain one too many opportunities ... and he made them pay.

Injury News
Chien-Ming Wang is headed to Birmingham, Ala., to visit with Dr. James Andrews about his ailing shoulder. A trip to see Andrews usually results in bad news. Andrews is going to look at Wang's MRI to determine if he has rotator cuff tear or if scar tissue from a previous surgery is causing Wang's problems. If it's a tear, Wang will miss the first part of next season. What a miserable season this has been for Wang.

Meanwhile, Brett Gardner's been placed on the 15-day DL after breaking his thumb Saturday. The Yankees will reassess Gardner's situation when his cast comes off in two weeks. They've recalled up Jonathan Albaladejo to reinforce the bullpen, but they are expected to eventually call up another outfielder.

Joe Girardi has wisely ruled out calling up prospect Austin Jackson, not wanting to disrupt the kid's development. Ramiro Pena , who has been learning to play the outfield but has not had enough experience out there yet, is a possibility to replace Gardner, as is Shelley Duncan and John Rodriguez.

Runners In Scoring Position
4-for-14 (.286)
241-for-911 (.265)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
24-for-92 (.261)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
175-for-639 (.274)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Monday at Rays, 7:08 p.m., YES
A.J. Burnett (9-4, 3.74 ERA) vs. James Shield (5-5, 3.70)

This is the start a big trip for the Yankees and with Burnett, CC Sabathia and Joba Chamberlain lined up to go in Tampa, they have a chance to deal a death-blow to the Rays, who have had some struggles of late. The Yankees, though need Burnett to go deep into this one. Hughes likely won't be available, meaning Bruney, Coke or Alfredo Aceves will have to handle the eighth.

If You Really Need Pitching...

Look, I am all for giving Smoltz another start. He definitely has the velocity now (hitting 92-93 on his fastball yesterday). But his pitches move about as much as a Shaker under the bedcovers. And if he gets rocked again, the Sox are going to be hurting.

But is the answer Roy Halladay? Or, if Boston really does need pitching, should they instead be looking at the back end of the rotation?

Here are a couple of pitchers that should be available:

Bronson Arroyo - Reds: Cincy is all but out of it and Arroyo is available. Cincy wants to move him because his contract swells next year. He's a lefty. And, oh yes, didn't he used to play here?

Arroyo can handle a Boston playoff atmosphere, something that is critical for any pitcher that comes to Boston (re: Jeff Suppan). He likes the town and the fans like him. The one possible problem is that $11M that Arroyo is due next year. But the Sox could handle that. Bottom line: Arroyo has double-digit wins in five of his last six years. The Sox could use that in the fifth slot.

Zach Duke - Pirates: Hey, it's another Pittsburgh fire sale as The Rebuilding: Part XX takes place this summer. Pretty much everyone but a handful of players are up for grabs if the price is right. Duke is a hard-throwing lefty who has good stuff but has suffered under a team in constant flux and a poor bullpen for much of his career. His lifetime record (35-48) is not indicative of his talent as a pitcher. He can eat innings as well. Other possibilities from Pittsburgh include two former starters now in AAA; Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny. Snell has been getting looks from the Yankees as of late.

And here's one that likely isn't available but wouldn't be a bad pickup.

Luke Hochevar - Royals: The Kansas City right-hander was mentioned in numerous trade scenarios over the winter. Only 25 years old, he is also one of two Royals' starters with a winning record (Greinke being the other). He's only in his third major-league season but could fit in nicely as a fifth starter with the Sox. Hell, the only starting Boston pitcher with a lower WHIP than Hochevar (1.25) is Beckett (1.14). For the record, Smoltz's is 1.53 and climbing.

Any of these three arms wouldn't cost the Sox a ransom; the most expensive would likely be Hochevar. By taking on Arroyo's salary, the Sox could probably get him for next to nothing. But all three pitchers would provide the Sox with a reliable arm at the back of the rotation and give them some needed depth in pitching while preserving their big trading chips for a bat.

Passing The Torch

On August 27th, 1978, my father took me to my first game at Fenway. I was six years old. From my prime seat behind the metal pole in Section 9, I watched the Sox beat the California Angels 4-3 in twelve innings. I got to see El Tiante in one of his last starts in Boston as a member of the Red Sox. I saw live for the first time the Holy Trinity of Rice, Lynn and Evans in the outfield. I saw Pudge catch. And I even witnessed Bob Stanley blowing a save opportunity in the ninth*.

It was...amazing. To my six-year old eyes, I had entered Eden. Forget the drunken brawls in the bleachers, the trough toilets that lined the men's room walls and the rest. Here were my heroes, live, in front of me. It solidified my awakening as a Boston fan.

Almost one month shy of exactly 31 years to the day of my first game, my wife and I brought our two children to their first game at Fenway. My son is seven and my daughter is four, so we weren't sure how long we'd last. But we knew it was time to make the pilgrimage.

A lot has changed since my first trip. Back then, anyone could walk up and down Yawkey Way...including some women who weren't looking to get into the park. I went with my dad as part of the annual trip he organized for where he worked. The bus would park in a sunken sand lot a few blocks down on Jersey Street and then we'd walk up to the park. People were soused by the second inning. It was a wild time.

Today you need a ticket to set foot on Yawkey Way. "Friendly Fenway" is a mantra enforced by a legion of security personnel. Women of ill repute are nowhere near the stadium these days (unless the Yankees are in town). And while it's sad that some of the rough edges have been sanded down, it is a much better place to bring your kids today than it was over 30 years ago. For one thing, they have urinals now in the men's room.

So we got to the park and walked in. We sat in Section 41, which isn't too bad for game viewing although you can't see anything hit hard into the Triangle in deep center or anything all the way down the right field line. As we walked the kids up the ramp towards their first view ever of the field, you could see their eyes get wider and wider. And when the glory of Fenway was laid out before them, my son summed it up best...


From there it only got better. They got their Red Sox caps (no pink for my girl, they both wear old school blues with the red "B"). They got their Fenway Franks (which have improved immensely since 1978). They had lemonade and Cokes and cotton candy and popcorn. But all that paled to the game itself.

We went Saturday, which ended in a 7-2 Sox over Baltimore. The highlight of that game, for my kids, came early when Big Papi mashed that three-run shot in the first inning. They are HUGE David Ortiz fans. And when that ball cleared the fence my son's head just about popped off. He was jumping up and down screaming Ortiz's name while my daughter stood on her seat and pumped her fists into the air. It was, without a doubt, one of the most awesome things I have ever seen in my life. It was their "I saw Pudge catch" moment.

And it may have gotten a wee bit dusty in the stands where I was sitting. Because at that moment, they joined the long line of Red Sox fans in my family. It started back in 1901 with my great-grandfather watching the Boston Americans play at the Huntington Avenue Grounds. And now it continues with my son and daughter, five generations strong.

We had to leave after six innings as my daughter was beginning to tire. But it was enough for them both. My wife and I found that out on Sunday when we were watching the Sox back at home in our room. My son walked in to ask me something when he looked at the television.

"Is that the Red Sox?" he asked us. We told him yes and then he plopped himself down between us to watch a couple of innings.

Another Sox fan for life.


* Stanley gave up the tying run in the ninth with one out and then the go-ahead run in the twelfth. So the Sox come up in the bottom of the inning and get to two outs with Remy at second base, pinch-running for Yaz and Lynn on first. Scott comes up and hits a ground ball that looks like a game ender until Carney Lansford botches the throw to first and Remy scores, putting Lynn on third. Next batter up is Butch Hobson. He hits a single to center, Lynn scored and that's the game. Two years later Lansford would come to Boston in a trade that included Butch Hobson. Small world.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Joba To Jays? Unlikely

So ESPN reports the Phillies are unwilling to meet the Blue Jays asking price for Roy Halladay and a short time later, SI's Jon Heyman posts this on Twitter:

#yankees might - repeat, might - consider giving up joba for #halladay. but wont entertain request of joba & hughes.

Earlier in the day, Heyman Tweeted that the Jays would need the Yankees to offer both Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, but something tells me the Yankees aren't willing to part with either and are just playing the game.

Let's assume the source for Heyman's post on Joba is from the Yankees.

If the Phillies are indeed not willing to go the distance for Halladay, that means the bidding for the 32-year-old former Cy Young Award winner will open up.

The last thing the Yankees want is to see Halladay remain in the American League, specifically the Red Sox or Angels, both of whom are interested in the righthander. The Jays and Red Sox did have discussion last week, ESPN reported.

By leaking that the Yankees might be willing to trade Joba, the Yankees would be keeping their hat in the Halladay sweepstakes and driving up the price for other potential suitors.

It's a mirror of the game they played in the Johan Santana sweepstakes, when they seemed willing to trade Hughes or Ian Kennedy.

Now let's assume Heyman's source was from the Jays.

Their proposal had just been rejected by the team that seems to be their best trade partner. In addition there have been reports that Halladay might not be willing to sign an extension, which would drive down his trade value, especially because he would be able to demand a trade in the offseason.

By saying the Yankees might be willing to trade Joba, the Jays would be applying pressure to other potential trade partners to improve their offers, specifically the Phillies, who have been reluctant to part with both Kyle Drabek and J.A. Happ.

This is just a case of trade-deadline gamesmanship. Nothing more.

Joba's going nowhere.

Streak Over

Andy Pettitte fumbled the baton Saturday, and for a change, Alfredo Aceves couldn't recover it.

After six brilliant innings, Pettitte couldn't get out of a jam in the seventh and the A's went on to score six in the inning to defeat the Yankees 6-4 at Yankee Stadium, snapping their winning streak at eight. The Yankees' stretch of outstanding starts came to an end and their lead in the AL East over the Red Sox was cut to 1-1/2 games.

"It's a frustrating game," Pettitte said. "We've been playing so well, and to be throwing the ball like I did and to feel as good as I did, it's pretty amazing to let it get away like that."

It was a stunning turn in what had been a terrific pitchers' duel between Pettitte and Gio Gonzalez. Pettitte didn't allow a runner until allowing a single with one out in the fourth. Gonzalez pitched no-hit ball until Melky Cabrera's two-out bunt single in the fifth.

It was delightful, riveting baseball, though you had to be concerned that the offense was struggling against a pitcher in Gonzalez, who had a 9.33 ERA entering the game. Gonzalez, though was sharp, featuring an outstanding curve and a sneaky fastball that he was able to command.

But the Yankees broke through in the sixth and you had to figure this game would go the way of the eight previous games -- in the win column. With one out, Derek Jeter walked and scored on Brett Gardner's triple to right center to make it 1-0.

But the Yankees' struggles to drive in runners in scoring position struck again. With Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez due up next, you figured this game would be 2-0. But unlike Friday's game, the Yankees couldn't even produce a run-scoring out. Both Teixeira and A-Rod popped out to end the threat and send Pettitte into the seventh with a one-run lead.

Pettitte, though, was throwing the ball as well as he had all season. Through six innings, he had allowed just two hits and struck out seven. Neither runner had reached second and Pettitte was in control.

And just like that, it all fell apart.

Pettitte backed up two curve balls to Scott Hairston leading off, but the second curve was in the strike zone and Hairston jumped all over it for a double to left. Nomar Garciaparra followed with a walk and Pettitte was up against it.

He got Jack Cust to fly out to center, and with Ace ready in the bullpen, Joe Girardi came out for a visit.

"I just wanted to make sure that he felt good," Girardi said. "He said he felt good. I liked the way he was throwing the ball. He had gotten a lot of ground balls and I liked our chances."

Pettitte did get a grounder, but it wasn't at one of his infielders. Rajai Davis stroked a bullet back through the box that was too hard for Pettitte to knock down, the ball racing into center to score Hairston and tie it at 1.

Bobby Crosby the laid down a perfect bunt to load the bases and Girardi went to Aceves. Ace got Mark Ellis to pop to Teixeira and then threw two quick strikes to Landon Powell. Yankees seemed as if they'd escape the jam tied.

Unfortunately, Ace's next pitch caught too much of the strike zone and Powell singled to bring in two runs and give the A's a 3-1 lead. Aceves fell apart after that, allowing an RBI single to Adam Kennedy and a two-run double to Orlando Cabrera to make it 6-1. Girardi then went to David Robertson, who struck out Hairston to end the inning.

Aceves has been so reliable, so effective, so versatile, that it's stunning when he get knocked around like that. But he is human and I'm sure he's going to bounce back just fine.

The line for Pettitte, meanwhile, does not reflect how well he pitched over the first six innings: 6-1/3 IP, 5 hits, four runs, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts and 66 of 99 pitches for strikes.

Of course, a game is nine innings and after getting Gonzalez out of the game in the seventh, the offense went to work in eighth against Michael Wurtz.

Jorge Posada pinch hit for Jose Molina and singled. Derek Jeter then homered to right to get the Yankees back into the game at 6-3. After Gardner stuck out, Teixeira then crushed another homer and it seemed the Yankees were going to pull off yet another dramatic rally.

A-Rod hit a grounder for the second out, but Nick Swisher blooped a double. The A's then brought in their closer, Andrew Bailey, who got Robinson Cano to fly out to right.

Girardi then turned to the struggling Brian Bruney in a pretty significant spot. Hold the line and the Yankees would have a chance to come back. Give up a run or two and the game would be over.

Bruney responded, allowing just one hit and striking out two, while throwing 10 of 14 pitches for strikes. It was his best outing since a perfect inning against the Mets on June 27. Hopefully this is a sign that he has turned things around and is on his way to once again becoming an important member of this bullpen.

With a chance for another whipped-cream pie celebration, the Yankees' offense put the first two runners on in the ninth when Melky Cabrera and Johnny Damon, who pinch hit, walked. Posada, however, grounded into a double play and Jeter hit a long fly to right-center that Davis settled under and put away for the final out.

And just like that, the eight-game win streak was over.

Time to start a new one.

Runners In Scoring Position
0-for-5 (.000)
237-for-897 (.264)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
20-for-78 (.256)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
171-for-625 (.274)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Sunday vs. A's, 1:05 p.m.. YES
Dallas Braden (7-8, 3.40 ERA) vs. Sergio Mitre (1-0, 4.76)

Going 9-1 on the homestand would be huge, especially because the Yankees are about to begin a stretch that features series against the Red Sox, Rays, White Sox and a trip to Oakland and Seattle. Mitre was solid in his first start. Hopefully, he can replicate that.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Joba Making Believers Out Of Doubters

Joba Chamberlain may have finally gotten this starting thing figured out.

Often, it takes young pitchers a little time learn what it takes to win in the majors, especially when they've had minimal minor league experience.

But Joba sure seems to getting there.

Joba won consecutive starts for just the second time in his career, pitching into the eighth inning an allowing just one run on two hits as the Yankees won their eighth straight out of the break, beating the A's 8-3 Friday at Yankee Stadium to remain 2-1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East.

Joba seemed to turn a corner in his previous start, allowing one run in 6-2/3 innings in a 2-1 victory over the Tigers Sunday. He more than backed that up Friday, and is starting to convert some of those who said she should remain in the bullpen.

“He’s changed my mind,” said Jorge Posada, who voiced his belief that Joba was better suited for the bullpen when the Yankees began converting him to a starter last season.

Joba was dominant Friday, working quickly, unleashing fastballs in the mid-90s, commanding a devastating slider and mixing in just enough curves and changes to keep batters off balance. He struck out six, walked three and threw 56 of 100 pitches for strikes.

This is what Yankee scouts and executives believed Joba (6-2, 3.86 ERA) would become and their patience and discipline appears to be paying off. Now it's up to Joba to build on what he's started.

The hallmark of top pitchers in the majors is their ability to be consistent. Any pitcher can throw a great game, but top pitchers can do it game-to-game. That's Joba's challenge.

Unfortunately for Joba, that challenge is also a double-edged sword. If he can establish that consistency, it would lead to a sooner end to his season in the rotation.

Joba is at 102-2/3 innings pitched for the season and it is believed he wisely has a limit of 150-160 innings. The most innings he's ever thrown in a season is about 100, and history has shown us that jumping young pitchers more than 40-60 innings can lead to arm problems. Just ask the Indians' Fausto Carmona.

So that means if Joba can continue pitching like he has in his last two starts, he'll have about seven or eighth starts left this season, which would force him out of the rotation by early September.

But if Joba can continue to pitch like this, it's a trade well worth making.

Joba's only trouble came in the first inning when Orlando doubled with one out, stole second and scored on Scott Hairston's sacrifice fly to center. Joba appears to be one of those pitchers, whom if an opponent doesn't get to him early, it won't get to him at all. Many great pitchers have been like that.

The offense broke through against Brett Anderson in the third. Robinson Cano led off with an infield single and went to third on a one-out double by Melky Cabrera. Derek Jeter, who went 3-for-5 with two RBI, singled to score Cano and Johnny Damon's groundout brought in Melky to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead.

With his three hits, Jeter has 2,655 hits to pass Ted Williams on the career list. Yes, Sox fans, we all recognize that Williams was robbed of so much because of his two military stints ... and we thank him for his service to our country.

The Yankees tacked on two more runs with an RBI groundout by Damon in the fifth and an RBI groundout by Hideki Matsui in the sixth. For those keeping score, that meant the Yankees produced three-run scoring outs.

I love to harp the importance of a team's ability to hit with runners in scoring position, but I do recognize that the stat is not perfect. It doesn't take into account productive outs, so even though the Yankees went 3-for-13 with RISP Friday, they were quite productive in run-scoring situations.

The Yankees broke it open in the eighth. Jorge Posada led off against Trumbull, Conn.'s Craig Breslow by crushing a homer to deep left. After getting Matsui to ground out, Breslow then walked Cano and Nick Swisher and was pulled for Santiago Casilla.

Melky then grounded back to the box, but Casilla couldn't get off a good throw to second, committing and error that allowed Cano to score to make it 6-1 before singles by Jeter and Damon each drove in run to give the Yankees a seven-run lead.

That left David Robertson, who allowed two runs, with some mopup duty in the ninth before everyone could gush about Joba's second straight terrific outing.

Joba is starting to make people believe in him as a start, but I have one question: With the Yankees' bullpen settling down and performing well, will Dave finally come around and admit the Yankees were right?

Runners In Scoring Position
3-for-13 (.231)
237-for-892 (.266)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
20-for-73 (.274)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
171-for-620 (.276)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Saturday vs. A's, 1:05 p.m., YES
Gio Gonzalez (1-2, 9.33) vs. Andy Pettitte (8-5, 4.62)

It's Pettitte's turn to carry the baton. Since the break, Yankees starters are 6-0 with a 2.35 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. They've struck out 41, walked just 20 and are averaging 6.7 innings a start. In his last outing, Pettitte pitched 7-1/3 innings, but got a no-decision in a 2-1 victory over the Tigers Monday.

Friday, July 24, 2009

That Swagger Is Coming Back

Down by three in the fourth inning Thursday, the Yankees had no doubts.

"We expect to win every night," Mark Teixeira said.

And winning they have been with regularity.

Teixeira jump-started the offense with a two-run homer in the fourth inning and led the Yankees to a 6-3 rain-delayed victory over the A's at Yankee Stadium to move 2-1/2 games in front of the Red Sox in the AL East.

It was the Yankees' seventh straight victory coming out of the All-Star break and 20th in their last 25 games. Since Alex Rodriguez returned May 8, the Yankees are 45-22.

That's a whole lot of winning and this team is starting to develop the swagger of the championship teams that believed they would win each and every time they took the field.

Of course, we shouldn't ignore those two little annoying thoughts running around in the back of our mind -- you know the one from Anaheim and the other one from Boston. This roll is great, but we also know that the Yankees won't truly have their mojo back until they take care of business against the Red Sox and Angels.

But that's a concern for another day. The Yankees aren't playing the Sox and Halos right now. They are playing the A's.

CC Sabathia struggled early, but eventually settled down to give the Yankees seven more strong innings and yet another quality start.

The A's jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second when Nomar Garciaparra singled, went third on Kurt Suzuki's double and scored on Jack Cust's sacrifice fly. Bobby Crosby brought in the second run with a single.

Oakland tacked on another run in the fourth. Matt Holliday, who was traded to the Cardinals Friday, led off with double and scoring on a single by Suzuki.

That was all Sabathia would surrender. He allowed nine hits and struck out four, throwing 71 of 109 pitches for strikes. It was another good, strong, gutty performance from Sabathia. Certainly more than serviceable. The thing is that more is expected from him. We want to see the dominant ace who carried the Brewers to the playoff last year or won the AL Cy Young Award two seasons ago.

Don't get me wrong, no one is about to toss back this performance, but the Yankees do need to take some of the load off their bullpen and a dominant stretch by CC would go along way toward doing that.

Through the first three innings, it appeared the Yankees were once again going to struggle against a pitcher they had never seen before. This time, it was Vin Mazzaro, a rookie from nearby Rutherford, N.J.

But this time, the offense got things figured out, striking in the fourth. Johnny Damon led off with a single before Teixeira crushed a homer to right to cut it to 3-2. A-Rod followed with a walk and stole second. He scored one out later on Jorge Posada's double and Posada came around on Eric Hinske's single. Just like that the Yankees had a 4-3 lead and were on their way.

The Yankees finished off Mazzaro in the fifth. Derek Jeter walked to lead off and Damon followed with a single. Teixeira brought in Jeter with a double before Matsui walked with one out to load the bases. Posada singled to drive in Damon and make it 6-3, but that's all the Yankees would get as Robinson Cano and Hinske popped out against Craig Breslow, of Trumbull, Conn. (Gotta give props to my hometown guy.)

But with Sabathia done after seven, Joe Girardi still had a decision to make. He wanted to get Mariano Rivera a day off, so he needed to figure out how to get through the eighth and ninth to close out the game.

The answer, as it has been since June, was Phil Hughes, who pitched two flawless innings for his first save. Is there anything this kid can't do?

And so it was yet another win on yet another day.

There have been a lot of them lately.

Runners In Scoring Position
4-for-13 (.308)
234-for-879 (.266)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
17-or-60 (.283)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
168-for-607 (.277)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Friday vs. A's, 7:05 p.m., YES
Brett Anderson (5-7, 4.25 ERA) vs. Joba Chamberlain (5-2, 4.05)

Plain and simple, Joba must back up his brilliant start Sunday against the Tigers with another today. If Joba can get through seven strong innings and get the win, I think he'll be on his way to a brilliant second half.

NOTE: Apologies for the lateness of this post. It was a busy day in Hartford. OMG, indeed!

A Number Goes Up...Should Another Come Down?

This weekend, James Edward Rice will take his rightful place in the Baseball Hall of Fame. And on Tuesday, he will become just the seventh player in Boston history to have their number retired by the Red Sox. His "14" will reside between Ted Williams and Carlton Fisk. Nice company.

Watching this happen makes one wonder when the next number will go up, or even if it will. There are a couple of big numbers that are still not in circulation: Clemens' "21" and Wade Boggs' "26". Considering that Clemens is going to have steroid issues to deal with for years to come, I can't see his number going up. But Boggs meets the requirements of 10 years with the Sox and reaching the HoF (that "retired with the team" clause came to an end with Fisk). I think he should go up, but we'll see what happens.

But for now, the focus is rightly on Rice. I'm not going to argue about whether he belongs in the HoF or not. That issue has been settled. Personally, I think he deserved to be voted in. Regardless, he met the criteria and more than earned the right to have his number retired.

He is also the first African-American to wear a Red Sox cap into Cooperstown. And when you consider that, you also have to think about the long history of the Red Sox. And how much of it was tainted by institutional racism.

I'm not breaking any new ground here; Howard Bryant covered it brilliantly in his 2002 book Shut Out. The simple truth is that while Tom Yawkey owned the Red Sox, they were run with a racist mentality. And Yawkey perpetuated that racism by hiring managers and general managers who held the same benighted views that he held himself. Men like Eddie Collins, who was GM of the Sox from 1933-47. Men like Herb Pennock, who ran scouting from 1935-44.

And men like Joe Cronin, who was manager from 1935-47 and GM from 1947-58.

Joe Cronin was Yawkey's right hand man. His close friend and a soul mate when it came to the idea that a black man had no business being on any baseball diamond, let alone the one in Fenway Park. And those reprehensible views had more to do with Boston not winning a championship between 1918 and 2004 than the mythical "Curse of the Bambino" ever did.

Cronin and Yawkey's racism was responsible for Boston missing out on two of the greatest African-American ballplayers to ever strap on the spikes. Jackie Robinson came to Fenway for a tryout in 1945 where he was humiliated by Cronin and Yawkey, an experience that led to Robinson loathing the Red Sox for the rest of his life.

Then in 1949 the Sox scouted a young player by the name of Willie Mays. But thanks to the racism that permeated the upper echelons of the team, Boston passed on one of the all-time greats in the game because he had the audacity to be black.

And here is one you may not know about. In the mid-1950s, the Sox passed on signing Billy Williams, aka "Sweet Swingin' Billy", also known today as the Hall of Fame outfielder who played for the Chicago Cubs from 1959-1974. And why? Well, we all know that by now, don't we?

And for each one, for each ignorant decision, there were two constants: Tom Yawkey and Joe Cronin.

Imagine a Boston team in 1946 that, instead of having a reprobate like Pinky Higgins at third, had a young Jackie Robinson.

Imagine a Boston team in 1951 that had Robinson, Doerr and Vern Stephens in the infield with Williams and Mays and Dom DiMaggio in the outfield.

Imagine a Boston team in 1967 that had the iconic Mays in the outfield along with the exciting, in-their-prime duo of Billy Williams and Carl Yastrzemski, and Reggie Smith coming off the bench.

All of this was, probable. There was no reason all of this couldn't have happened, except for the fact that Cronin and Yawkey didn't like black people.

So why do we honor two men that did more damage to this team than Harry Frazee ever did? Why is a street named after Yawkey while Cronin's "4" hangs in a place of honor? They combined to mismanage and hold back this franchise for over 40 years. Yawkey finally gave in on African-American players because he had no choice in the matter. Not that he didn't still try to move them along now and again.* Rice's best move ever was joining the Sox when Yawkey was only a year away from kicking the bucket.

Solving the Yawkey issue is easy; just say the street is named after his wife. Jean Yawkey was a committed philanthropist to many charities and organizations, including the Jackie Robinson Scholarship Program.

But Cronin...I know we get into a dicey area here. You could look at a racist like Ty Cobb who is honored in Detroit and say "Well, should they pull him down?" But the difference there is that Cobb's racism, abhorrent as it is, didn't affect the team. Perhaps it may have if Cobb had played in the 40s and 50s. But it didn't. But Cronin's racism did affect the team in many negative ways. Hell, the Sox didn't employ a single African-American in any capacity in the late 1950s!

I know that the HoF is based on the numbers you put up and that something like your views on race doesn't play a role (again, look at Cobb). But to retire someone's number...if they were a manager and GM as well, shouldn't their decisions in that arena count as well? I think they should.

And with that in mind, I think the Red Sox should revoke the retirement of Cronin's number. His racist views were a negative impact on this team for almost two decades. He cost the Red Sox some of the greatest men to ever play the game. How can you honor a man like that by retiring his number?

This isn't a rant to just single out the Sox. Other teams suffered from the taint of racism as well. Bryant's book points out the negative effect racism played in the Yankees organization, in particular the effect George Weiss had on the team. It was only their deep farm system that mitigated the effects until 1964, at which point the Yankees wouldn't see the playoffs again until 1976.

But that is for Yankee fans to deal with. My concern is that the Red Sox honor a man who has no right to be honored. If there is justice in this world, then the day will come when Cronin's number is no longer on the wall.


* Yes, I am referring to Reggie Smith getting traded in 1973. Because why else would you move a two-time All-Star who just came off a season where he hit .303 and belted 21 homers?