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Monday, August 31, 2009

Joba Plan Just Getting Silly

The Yankees continued their amazing second-half surge by sweeping the Chicago White Sox this weekend, and Sergio Mitre, of all people, deserves all the credit.

That's because the Yankees' latest plan for Joba Chamberlain has crossed the border into the utterly absurd.

Mark Teixeira homered and drove in four to surpass 100 RBI for the season as Joba pitched just three innings before five relievers closed out an 8-3 victory Sunday. That the Yankees didn't completely burn out the bullpen was the result of Mitre's brilliant start Saturday, in which he allowed one hit in 6-1/3 innings in a 10-0 victory.

The Yankees remain six games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East with a magic number of 28.

But the buzz this morning is about Joba and his three-inning, 35-pitch outing, leaving many, including me, to wonder why the Yankees just can't come up with a plan that makes sense.

Joba was below average in his abbreviated start, allowing two runs on four hits with one strikeout.

The bullpen that followed, though, was brilliant, allowing one run on five hits in the remaining six innings. Alfredo Aceves (9-1) was credited with the win after pitching three scoreless innings.

Thank goodness Mitre's strong start was able to preserve the 'pen the day before.

But I have to wonder if this new version of the Joba Plan will accomplish its goals.

Whether you believe in an old-school philosophy about pitching, or follow a new-school philosophy, the one question you have to ask is how far you push a young pitcher whose previous season high in innings pitched is all of 100 innings?

I understand those who say Joba is young and strong, but we have also seen numerous examples of young pitchers whose innings were rapidly jacked up from one season to the next and ended up either getting injured or being much less effective.

The Verducci Effect puts that risky jump at 30 innings. The Yankees are currently planning on jumping Joba by 60 innings in the regular season, and then more in the postseason. Can they really reasonably push him much more? Does anyone in all seriousness really believe Joba is physically capable of pitching say 200 innings, including the postseason, without putting him at risk?

But it's not enough to just protect Joba's arm. They Yankees need to produce wins, not just on the days Joba starts, but in the days before and after.

The first plan tried to limit Joba's innings by spacing out his starts. That didn't work too well as Joba, well, sucked.

The new plan is to start Joba every five days, but limit him to three or four innings before rebuilding his arm strength toward the end of the season. Under this plan, he has five or six starts remaining this season. The hope is that he'll also be able to rediscover that rhythm that made him so dominant coming out of the All-Star break. There's no guarantee of that, though.

But this plan also guarantees the bullpen with have to pitch five or six innings in a game every fifth day. Now, you never want your bullpen to pitch that much, but you also know that it can happen. The thing is that by having Joba pitch just three or four innings in a start, the Yankees are also putting a premium on the starts directly before and after him. They need depth in those games in order to avoid over-taxing the bullpen.

Yes, the expanded rosters in September will help, but if pitchers such as Jonathan Albaladejo, Edwar Ramirez and Mark Melancon were that good and reliable, they wouldn't be September callups.

This go around, things worked out because of Mitre.

Look, I'm not going pretend to suddenly be a big Mitre fan. I've been hard on him and I still don't believe he's a major league-caliber starter. He still has a long way to go to prove that.

But I also won't deny that he was simply great on Saturday. No one can take that away from him. Maybe it was all that rest he had between starts (a new application for the original Joba Plan???).

Mitre (3-1, 5.65 ERA) allowed a run and a walk in 6-1/3 innings. He struck out two and threw 48 of 73 pitches for strikes. The only reason he didn't go deeper into the game was because he took a liner off his forearm. Chad Gaudin pitched the remaining 2-2/3 innings allowing a walk and striking out four.

The lineup also provided plenty of support, pounding Jose Contreras, forcing the former Yankee out of the game one out into the fourth.

Alex Rodriguez went 2-for-4 with a homer, and Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano and Jerry Hairston Jr. each drove in two runs. Derek Jeter, meanwhile, continued his hot hitting by going 3-for-4.

Imagine what might have happened Sunday had that game been close or Mitre been forced from the game earlier. It could have been ugly.

Fortunately, the Aceves and the bullpen were brilliant Sunday and the bats continued their onslaught, scratching out three runs against Freddy Garcia before pounding the White Sox's bullpen.

Johnny Damon had a two-run homer in the third to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead, Melky Cabrera smoked an RBI double in the five-run seventh and Mark Teixeira delivered a three-run blast to put the game away.

Teixeira has now surpassed 30 homers and 100 RBI in six straight seasons.

But imagine what might have been had Mitre been even mediocre ... or the offense not outstanding.

The Yankees are going to try to continue with this new plan because they believe it is the right thing to do.

I think it is foolish.

If Joba was in the minors, the Yankees would let take his regular turn in the rotation and then shut him down when he hit his innings limit.

But he's in the majors and the Yankees want him to contribute and want him to be their fourth starter in the playoffs.

The reality is that Joba just doesn't have the innings to be a full-fledged major league starter ... yet. Just let him get normal starts on regular rest in the rotation until he hits about 150 innings. At that point, he can continue to contribute out of the bullpen.

And given the way he's been pitching of late, there is no guarantee he'll be any better than Gaudin or Mitre in the playoffs anyway.

Runners In Scoring Position
6-for-17 (.353)
3-for-6 (.500)
326-for-1,208 (.270)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
109-for-389 (.280)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
261-for-935 (.279)
Vs. Red Sox
36-for-163 (.221)

Up Next
Monday at Orioles, 7:05 p.m., YES
Andy Pettitte (11-6, 4.18) vs. Jeremy Guthrie (9-12, 5.26)

Have You Heard, About The Byrd?

Did we have any right to expect such a great result yesterday? Did we have any reason to think that Paul Byrd, less than a month removed from signing a minor league deal with the Sox, would outduel Roy Halladay? And yet when Byrd left after six innings, he was holding a 4-0 lead and had utterly baffled the Blue Jays. By the end, the Sox had won 7-0 and Byrd had his first win of the year.

He probably could have gone longer; Byrd threw just 83 pitches in those six innings. He threw 64% of his pitches for strikes and threw a first-pitch strike to 63% of the batters he faced. The interesting thing is that of the 53 pitches he threw for strikes, only one was a swinging strike. Byrd showed everyone the meaning of the phrase "pitching to contact" yesterday. He relied on the defense to get the outs and they did just that. It was a great display of veteran pitching. And it should make Boston fans a little calmer for now as we head into September and the expanded roster.

The bullpen did a nice job of closing things out. Delcarmen gave up a walk in the seventh but that was it. And Saito made things interesting in the ninth before finally shutting the door. And then there was the eighth inning...

Yes, let me say it now: Billy Wagner looked good. If...IF he looks like that the rest of the year, I will issue a huge mea culpa. So far, he's off to a better start than Eric Gagne. Of course, that is a pretty low bar to clear. But if Wagner can pull that off when he steps on the mound, and he doesn't send the clubhouse into a tailspin in the process, then maybe this deal has a chance to work after all.

Jason Bay got the day off in an act of mercy towards the Jays. So Rocco Baldelli started in left and promptly jacked a solo shot to left in the second to make it 2-0. In the first, Youk had doubled in V-Mart. Youk ended up going 2-3 with three RBI. Ellsbury went 1-4 with a run scored and Pedroia went 1-4 with two runs scored. Even Alex Gonzalez got into the act, going 2-3 with a run scored and a RBI single in the fourth. All in all, eight of nine Boston starters had at least one hit and six of nine starters scored at least one run. Just a note on Gonzalez; he is 10-27 in his last eight games with two homers and four RBI. His is hitting .370 and has a 1.037 OPS over that span. Since he joined the Sox, he is hitting .296 with an .815 OPS. We dealt for his glove...getting this kind of hitting out of the nine-spot is a huge bonus.

And so the Sox closed out their homestand with a sweep of the Jays and winning six of their last eight games. They're 22 games over .500 and 3.5 games ahead of the Rangers in the wild-card race. And they are still just six back of the Yankees for the AL East lead with 32 games left to play. After all that angst we've been through since the All-Star break, the Sox are in a pretty good place heading into the last month of the season.

But they have a critical series coming up. The Sox play three in Tampa to kick off a seven-game road trip starting tomorrow. Tampa has plagued Boston all year. Hopefully that will change on Tuesday. The series kicks off with Lester facing Andy Sonnastine. Sonnastine has had a rough year, going 6-7 with a 6.61 ERA. He has 3-3 in his last six games. He faced the Sox once this year in May and got the win, going 5.2 innings and allowing two runs in a 6-2 Tampa victory. Hopefully that won't happen tomorrow night. Lester hasn't given up more than three earned runs in a game in his last five starts. In three of those starts he gave up just one run. But he has just one decision (a win against the Jays on August 20) in his last six outings. He should be 13-8 or so at this point. But as long as he keeps pitching well and the Sox win, I'd wager he'll be happy.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Clay Steps Up

On the unfortunate news that Tim Wakefield will miss his next start, the Sox needed some good pitching news. And they got it from their young, if uneven, wunderkind en route to a 3-2 win over Toronto.

Clay Buchholz had the best outing of his career so far. He went 8.1 innings and gave up just one run on three hits while striking out nine. His Game Score was 80; the only one higher in his entire career was the 93 he had on his no-hitter in 2007. He threw 63% of his pitches for strikes and threw a first-pitch strike to 83% of the batters he faced. Clay had his fastabll working and was using his changeup to deadly effect. Not only was he using it to get batters out, he was throwing it as a first pitch as well. His curve was sensational. If this was the kind of game Buchholz could crank out on a regular basis...well, I think Boston would feel more secure in their pitching.

There is one caveat to this praise. Clay has won three games this year, and all three wins are against Toronto. He absolutely owns this team for whatever reason. So while it was a great outing and indicative of the talent that Clay possesses, it would be nice to see him win against another team. But the bottom line is Clay pitched a great game and the Sox have won nine of their last twelve games.

They almost didn't, though. With Boston leading 3-0, Clay kicked off the top of the ninth with a sharp single and a line out to short that Gonzalez snagged. Both were hit hard but the Sox were now just two outs from a win and Clay getting a complete game shutout. Instead, Tito came out to pull Buchholz and insert Okajima.

Now, I love Tito as manager and support almost everything he does. But I didn't like that call yesterday. Clay deserved the chance to close that game out. And I think the Baseball Gods agreed. Because Okajima came on, gave up a double and a single, and just like that the Sox were ahead by a slender 3-2 margin with a runner on first. So the closer came on. And with the off-season trade rumors swirling around him (even Jerry Remy has mentioned them), Papelbon closed it out with a clean 2/3 of an inning for his 32nd save of the year.

The top of the lineup was productive yesterday. Ellsbury went 2-5 with a run scored, Pedroia went 3-4 with a RBI and V-Mart also went 3-4 with a RBI. In a rare turn of events, no one hit a homerun yesterday. All in all, the Boston lineup cranked out 10 hits yesterday, which I consider a good day's work.

And so we come to today and a chance for the Sox to sweep the Jays. But it won't be easy. The Sox are calling Paul Byrd to the mound after signing him to a minor league deal on August 5. He went 0-1 in two starts down in the Bucket with a 3.27 ERA, 11 innings pitched and seven strikeouts against one walk. Batters only hit .220 against him, so maybe he can help the Sox out down the stretch. But he goes against Toronto's ace, Doc Halladay. But this isn't the same devastating pitcher from the first half of the year. He's lost three of his last five games, including a 6-1 loss to the Sox on August 19. Ever since he wasn't traded by the deadline, Halladay has looked like a different pitcher. I think Toronto has to move him in the off-season because he isn't going to the be the old Halladay for them anymore, in my opinion.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Robbie Gets A Little Pie

Did Robinson Cano ever need to come through in a situation like that!

Cano’s two-out, three-run homer to right-center off Randy Williams in the 10th lifted the Yankees to a 5-2 victory over the White Sox at Yankee Stadium on Friday, maintaining New York’s lead in the AL East at six games over the Red Sox.

For those interested, the Yankees’ magic number for clinching is 30, so they still have plenty of work to do.

It’s been a very strange year for Cano. His numbers look great: .313 batting average, 21 homers, 68 RBI with defense that has improved to the point where he can garner legitimate consideration for the Gold Glove (No Dave, I’m not saying Cano’s going to win the Gold Glove, just that his defense is worthy of being in the discussion).

But anyone who’s watched the Yankees on a regular basis knows Cano’s offensive numbers don’t tell the full story.

He has been miserable time in big, key, clutch situations. With runners in scoring position, he’s just 31-for-150 (.207) with three homers and 46 RBI. The 150 at-bats with runners in scoring position are among the league leaders, and his failures have many Yankees fans dreading when he steps up in a big spot.

And when Cano stepped to the plate with pinch runner Jerry Hairston Jr. at second and Nick Swisher at first, I know I was feeling pretty sure the game would be heading to the 11th.

In Thursday’s 7-2 painful loss to the Rangers and earlier in Friday’s game, Cano had three big opportunities to drive in key runs for the Yankees and failed.

Thursday, when the Yankees left a small army on base and managed only two runs against an ineffective Dustin Nipper, who was knocked out after 3-2/3 innings, Cano had two opportunities to break the game open. He came to bat in the first with the bases loaded and two outs, but his line drive down the left field line was caught by a well-positioned David Murphy. In the third he grounded out with runners on first and second and two outs, part of the Yankees’ 2-for-12 with RISP day.

And Friday he seemed to be enduring more of the same when he grounded out with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth.

So when Hideki Matsui and Nick Swisher walked with two outs in the 10th, there really couldn’t be any legitimate reason to believe Cano would come through, other than he was simply due.

Cano worked the count to 2-and-2 when Williams put an 85 mph slider belt-high on the inner half that Cano jumped on crushed into the bleachers to set off the wild celebration and earn the whipped cream pie.

It was a great moment for Cano that hopefully will enhance his confidence and give a strong close to the season when he’s in clutch situations.

It also gave the Yankees a win on a night when CC Sabathia delivered yet another outstanding August start.

CC allowed two runs on eight hits and one walk in seven innings. He struck out 10 and threw 78 of 113 pitches for strike, but came away with a no-decision when he couldn’t escape the seventh with the lead.

Jermaine Dye led off with a double ahead of a walk to Carlos Quentin. Alex Rios followed with a double to make it 2-1. And when Alexei Ramirez lined out to second before Ramon Castro grounded into a fielder’s choice in which Alex Rodriguez gunned out Quentin at home, CC looked as if he might get out of the jam.

Jayson Nix, however, beat out an infield hit to load the bases for Gordon Beckham, whose single to right drove in Rios to tie it, with Castro being gunned out at the plate by Swisher.

The Yankees had built a 2-0 lead on leadoff homera by Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon in the first and third, respectively. And until the seventh, it looked as if that would be more than enough for Sabathia.

But the bullpen came on to pitch three outstanding innings, with Phil Hughes striking out the side in the eighth, Mariano Rivera retiring the side on 10 pitches in the ninth and Brian Bruney (4-0) picking up the win with a scoreless 10th that set the stage for Cano.

And for one day, Cano doesn’t have to worry about questions about his performance in the clutch.

He was the hero.

Runners In Scoring Position
1-for-7 (.143)
317-for-1,185 (.268)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
100-for-366 (.273)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
252-for-913 (.276)
Vs. Red Sox
36-for-163 (.221)

Up Next
Saturday vs. White Sox, 1:05 p.m., YES
Jose Contreras (5-12, 5.09 ERA) vs. Sergio Mitre (2-1, 6.82)

Expect this to be a slugfest, but if Mitre could ever give the Yankees at least five innings allowing no more than three runs, they’d be in great shape. Jake Peavy was supposed to make this start for the White Sox, but after getting hit in a rehab start, was scratched. Contreras was hit hard in his last start against the Red Sox Monday.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pettitte Has Plenty Left

Maybe this isn't Andy Pettitte's swansong afterall.

Pettitte allowed two runs on five hits an three walks in seven strong innings, and Jorge Posada homered to lead the Yankees to an easy 9-2 victory over the Rangers at Yankee Stadium Wednesday to remain six games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East.

Entering the season, many people, including me, believed this likely would be Pettitte's final season. He struggled last year with a sore shoulder and has often said that while he loves pitching for the Yankees and in New York, he misses being with his family.

In each of the last two offseasons, Pettitte, 37, has considered retirement, but returned, first to close out the old Stadium, and then this year to open the new one. He agreed to an incentive-laden, one-year deal with a base salary of $6 million to be the team's No. 4 starter.

And though he was shaky in the first half, Pettitte has come on to be the team's best starter in the second half, solidifying the No. 3 spot in the rotation following Chien-Ming Wang's injury and building a case for the Yankees to bring him back next season -- that is if he chooses not to retire.

On Wednesday Pettitte struck out seven and threw 61 of 103 pitches in earning his 189th with the Yankees to tie Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez on the team victory list. Pettitte has 226 career wins, including his three-year stint with the Astros.

After escaping a bases-loaded jam in the first, Pettitte (11-6, 4.18 ERA) was in control. He allowed only an RBI double to David Murphy that made it 4-1 in the fourth and a two-out homer to Murphy in the seventh that made it 4-2. (Anyone else think the Sox would like to have that trade chip back?)

And it was a much needed performance given what the offense had to go through the night before when Joba Chamberlain couldn't make an 4-0 lead stand up.

Posada gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead with a three-run blast to center in the second and then the Yankees just kept pouring it on while Pettitte held down the Rangers. Jerry Hairston Jr. tacked on a homer in the fourth and then the offense broke it open with five in the seventh, highlight by a two-run singles by Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, and an RBI single by Nick Swisher.

The only down note came when Posada and Alex Rodriguez were force to leave the game with injuries that turned out to be minor. Posada was hit by a foul ball on the left hand, aggravating a finger injury and A-Rod fouled a pitch off his foot and sustained a bruise.

Posada is day-to-day, but likely wasn't going to play in the day game today anyway.

But Pettitte was the star Wednesday.

In five starts this month he has gone 3-0 with a 2.84 ERA. This guy still has what it take to be a very successful pitcher in the American League and has plenty left in the tank.

I just hope we get to see him for at least another year.

Runners In Scoring Position
5-for-5 (1.000)
314-for-1,166 (.269)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
97-for-347 (.280)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
249-for-894 (.279)
Vs. Red Sox
36-for-163 (.221)

Up Next
Thursday vs. Rangers, 1:05 p.m., YES
Dustin Nippert (4-2, 3.95) vs. A.J. Burnett (10-7, 4.08)

Burnett is coming off his first awful start in a long time. The last time he had a start that bad was June 8 in Boston and he responded with a strong, two-month run. Hopefully history will repeat itself and Burnett will shut down the Rangers to take the series.

Welcome Back, Wakes

Yes, everyone is buzzing about Big Papi's walk-off homer in the ninth to give the Sox a 3-2 win over Chicago. And so will I in a few paragraphs. But the real story is the return of Tim Wakefield to the mound.

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet your #3 starter.

"Can Wakefield pitch effectively?" That was the big question going into last night's game. I think that Wakes answered it rather emphatically. He scattered six hits over seven innings and allowed just one run. He threw 78% of his pitches for strikes last night and threw first-pitch strikes to 74% of the batters he faced. He faced the minimum number of batters (9) between the second and fourth innings. It was everything we all hoped his comeback would be. Everything except a win, that is.

That's because Ramon Ramirez made a bad choice and allowed Scott Podsednik (who has been crushing the ball in this series) to hit a pinch-hit homer in the top of the eighth to tie the game at two. Wakefield should have had his 12th win of the year last night. Instead, he'll have to settle for lifting the hearts of Boston fans everywhere. And showing that the Red Sox have three effective starters come the post-season. Daniel Bard came on with two out in the eighth and owned the White Sox, striking out three of the four batters he faced while hitting triple digits on more than one pitch. He also picked up his first win courtesy of Ortiz's ninth game-winning homer in a Boston uniform.

It wasn't a Monster shot, just a simple curl around the Pesky Pole in right. But Ortiz's game-winning blast was a welcome sight in what has been a rough professional year for him. And while there is a bittersweet tinge now to the vision of Papi rounding the bases, seeing the Sox grab a close game is another welcome sight as we stand on the cusp of September.

Ortiz hit two homers in total last night. Alex Gonzalez hit a third. All were solo shots and accounted (obviously) for all of Boston's runs. If there was one downside to Boston's play last night it was Gavin Floyd baffling the lineup most of the night. Gonzalez and Ortiz were the only batters to have a multiple-hit game. Floyd is a good pitcher so it wasn't odd to see him stifling a lineup. But after Boston's recent offensive explosion, it was weird watching them go 0-5 with runners in scoring position and struggling to scratch out a couple of hits.

But all's well that ends well and now Boston stands on the verge of sweeping the White Sox. But standing in their way is John Danks, a solid lefty who got tagged with a loss last year against the Sox but pitched very well in that game (two runs and two hits in seven innings). Boston counters with Junichi Tazawa, who is coming off a damn fine performance against the Yankees. Tazawa has yet to put two solid performances back-to-back this year. Hopefully he can get that done tonight. He has all the talent in the world and is fearless on the mound. Pitching the Sox to their eighth win in ten games would be a great step forward for Tazawa.

And I guess we have to briefly talk about Papelbon and Wagner...well, what Theo Epstein had to say about Paps' earlier comments regarding a possible trade for Wagner. Here's the quote from Theo:

"I think Pap feels he was misunderstood," Epstein said. "He's not a Rhodes Scholar to begin with. When I talked to him directly about it he couldn't have been more excited. When we had our window (to speak to Wagner), Pap went out of his way to make sure he knew he was more than welcome here."

"He's not a Rhodes Scholar to begin with." Ow. Did the GM just call his closer a moron?

This may just be playful banter...but could it be something else? We all know the Sox don't like people making waves and making outlandish quotes to the press. We also know that Papelbon tends to do just that. And that has some people considering a interesting, if unlikely, scenario:

Though this is mostly speculation, there's an outside chance, too, the Red Sox could wind up keeping Wagner and dealing incumbent closer Jonathan Papelbon over the winter. Papelbon is taking over the old Curt Schilling role of the over-opinionated, ill-informed motor mouth.


That fits into a theory going around the game that the Red Sox might be tiring of Papelbon's act and could consider using Wagner as closer next year, with relief prodigy Daniel Bard playing the role of setup man and protégé. Papelbon would fetch a lot in trade, though that still seems like a somewhat far-fetched scenario.

I think it's rather far-fetched as well. But completely out of the realm of possibility? I don't think you can go that far. Bard was declared untouchable during trade time. The Sox said they wouldn't pick up Wagner's option because he wants to close. But if he pitches well and the Sox offered him the chance to close, wouldn't he take it? And Theo's comment was pretty strong.

I still don't see it happening. Papelbon has 30+ saves in each of his first four seasons in the majors. You don't trade away someone like that at the age of 28. Do you?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Time To Adjust The Joba Plan

Brian Cashman, Joe Girardi, the Joba Plan just ain't working and it's time to make an adjustment.

The issue isn't trying to protect Joba Chamberlain's 23-year-old arm by limiting his innings. The Verducci Effect is a legitimate cause for concern. The issue is how the Yankees are trying to accomplish it.

Joba (8-4, 4.34 ERA) allowed seven runs on nine hits and three walks in four innings, including a five-run, 44-pitch fourth inning, and a Yankees comeback fell short in a 10-9 loss to the Rangers at Yankees Stadium Tuesday. New York's lead over Boston in the AL East was trimmed to six games.

That makes four straight poor starts for Joba since the Yankees began their plan of spacing out Joba's starts in attempt to limit his innings and have him available as a starter for the postseason.

The plan isn't working out so well.

He's allowed 19 runs on 27 hits and 15 walks over 20 innings, while striking out 17. That's on the heels of a three dominant starts coming out of the All-Star break, when he was able to get into a rhythm and carry that over from start to start.

But since the Yankees began starting Joba irregularly, he has had trouble with his command, struggled to put hitters away and has been rocked.

The plan, while it will limit Joba's innings, isn't helping him on the field and something needs to change. Maybe in three or four years, Joba will be able to handle pitching on longer rest, but he is still a kid and maturing. He still has a lot to learn, including how to handle time between starts.

But right now he can't do it, and the shame of it Tuesday was that after jumping out to a 4-0 lead on a two-run double by Hideki Matsui and a two-run homer by Jorge Posada in the first inning, the Yankees should have had an easy win.

But Joba just didn't have it, giving back two in the second before that disastrous five-run fourth. Still, when Robinson Cano homered in the bottom half, the score was 7-5. Some good relief pitching and the Yankees would have been in good shape.

But Chad Gaudin was no better than Joba, allowing three runs in 3-2/3 innings on three walks and seven hits, including homers by Nelson Cruz and Michael Young.

That proved all the more frustrating when the Yankees scored four runs in the ninth, and appeared to be in position to pull out the dramatic victory with runners on first and second and no one out after Cano's two-run single.

Joe Giradi then called on Nick Swisher to bunt. Unfortunately, Swisher failed to get the bunt down, popping up for the first out.

Girardi made the right call with the wrong person.

The proper play there is to bunt and move the runners to second and third, where the tying run can score on a fly out. Of course Melky Cabrera would have been walked to set up the force at home or double play, but that would also have brought the red-hot Derek Jeter to bat.

The problem is Swisher is not the right person to have bunt.

Look, I agree in theory at every major league should be able to bunt. It's the fundamentals.

The thing you have to remember about Swisher is that he grew up in the Oakland A's system, playing Moneyball-brand baseball, which absolutely does not believe in giving away outs with sacrifice bunts. As a result, it's likely Swisher never, ever learned how to lay down a bunt.

The mistake Girardi made was not in calling for the bunt, but in not calling on a pinch hitter to do it. If he wanted to keep Swish in the game, Girardi should have let him swing away.

And after Swisher's failure, Melky hit a line drive to short that was turned into a double play when pinch runner Jerry Hairston Jr. was beaten to the bag after first taking a step to third, putting a cap on the heart breaking loss.

But Joba's ineffectiveness is the primary reason the Yankees lost.

He is scheduled to start again Sunday on normal rest. My advice to the Yankees is to keep him on regular rest and when he gets to about 150 innings pitched for the season in about four starts, move him to the bullpen for the rest of the season.

I realize that means he might not be able to start in the playoffs, but here's the reality about the postseason: you don't need four good starters to make it to and win the World Series. It can be done with two -- as the 2003 Arizona Diamondbacks (Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson) proved -- and the Yankees have three very strong ones in CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte.

They can get through the three playoff starts the fourth starter would make with Gaudin. Heck, they won in 1996 with an utterly ineffective Kenny Rogers.

Stop messing with Joba's routine and just let him pitch.

Runners In Scoring Position
5-for-10 (.500)
309-for-1,161 (.266)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
92-for-342 (.269)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
244-for-889 (.274)
Vs. Red Sox
36-for-163 (.221)

Up Next
Wednesday vs. Rangers, 7:05 p.m., YES, ESPN2
Derek Holland (7-7, 4.72) vs. Pettitte (10-6, 4.25)

Pettitte got the win despite not pitching well in Boston Friday. Look for him to bounce back with a big effort to get the Yankees back on track.

Ellsbury Breaks The Record. In Other News, Sox Win Again.

You know what we're going to talk about first. Yes, the Sox winning their game 6-3 is very important. But we have to talk about Ellsbury first.

It's not often you get to see a club record broken. So to watch Ellsbury steal his 55th base and break a 36-year old single-season record was pretty amazing. Sort of anti-climactic, though. We wait these few days, he gets a double to start the game and then steals third. Damn thing practically snuck up on me.

But it is a great achievement by Ellsbury. Now the trick is to get to 60 stolen bases. Maybe even 70? Ellsbury isn't even in his prime yet. Imagine how good he'll be at stealing bases in two years.

That stolen base was just the icing on a great night for Ellsbury. He went 3-5 with a run scored and an RBI. The only other batter who had a comparable night was V-Mart, who came off the bench in the seventh to pinch-hit for Alex Gonzalez, drove in Nick Green to tie the game and then drove him in again in the eighth with a double. Martinez ended up going 2-2 with a run scored and two RBI.

Jason Bay continues his march to 30/100 and beyond. He hit a solo shot last night - his 28th of the year - and racked up his 89th RBI of the season. It ended up being the game winning RBI as it put the Sox ahead to stay at 4-3.

Jon Lester actually pitched a pretty decent game: 6.2 innings, three runs on four hits and six strikeouts against two walks. Unfortunately, Lester gave up two of those runs in the seventh to give Chicago a 3-2 lead at the time and he had to come out. Oki came on to close out the seventh and start the eighth. He loaded the bases before getting two outs. Then Delcarmen came in to get Alex Rios to end the inning. That was enough for Delcarmen to get the win after the Sox unloaded for three runs in the eighth. Then Papelbon came on in the ninth to rack up his 30th save. It was a good inning for Paps, marred only by a double from Podsednik. But he's been hitting the ball off of everyone lately so you can't fault Paps for that.

Speaking of Papelbon, he's not nearly as defensive about Gagne 2.0 coming to Boston now as he was a few days ago. Hell, he's downright giddy.

"We're excited to have him, and hopefully he'll help us win a championship," Papelbon said before tonight's game against the White Sox. "We'll get along great. I know we will. I'm looking really forward to seeing how he works and maybe picking up a couple of things from him."

Ummm...yeah. Like how to suck in the post-season? No offense, Paps, but that is one lesson I don't want you learning from Gagne 2.0 while he's here. You have a ring; he doesn't. You are only the second closer in major league history to save 30 or more games in your first four seasons. We know Theo had a "talk" with you and now you're playing the good soldier. That's fine. But do not take any advice from a guy who turned two clubhouses against him.

The rumor is that Chris Carter is one of the "players to be named later" headed towards the Mets in this deal. I was worried it may be someone better. Carter is one of those 1B/OF/DH guys who can swing a bat but whose fielding is....well, let's be kind and say "suspect". If this is the level of the players going back to New York, then I can calm down a little. What made that Gagne deal so insufferable is that David Murphy went over to Texas and is an established starter now. And in return we got a ton of crap. My question is what do the Mets think they are going to do with Carter? Unless the DH rule comes to the NL, I can't see him taking a roster spot.

And for you trivia buffs, moving Carter to the Mets now means that the Sox turned Wily Mo Pena and cash into Billy Wagner. And if everything comes off right next year, he turns into two draft picks. Now, THAT part I like about the deal. I just wish we didn't have Gagne 2.0 screwing up the clubhouse in the process.

And I will say this: if I am wrong about Wagner, I will publicly and freely admit it.

Tonight it's Gavin Floyd for Chicago and for Boston it's the return of Tim Wakefield. He's looking good coming off those rehab stints. If he can pick up where he left off, I think Boston fans will breathe a little easier.

Oh, and as for all of this "We have to root for the Yankees because they'll beat the Rangers" crap...are you f-ing kidding me?? Are you people giving up already?? The Yankee lead is six games. Both teams have 37 games left, including three head-to-head in New York. Who says the Sox can't make up six games? As long as the Sox keep winning, I say let the Yankees crash and burn against Texas, Tampa Bay or whoever. The rest will take care of itself. Rooting for the Yankees...Jesus wept.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Welcome To Boston, Gagne 2.0

Source: Mets get 2 players for Wagner

Yes, Boston gave two players "to be named later" to the Mets for a reliever with a bad attitude and an 8.71 lifetime post-season ERA. Unbe-frickin-lievable.

Who wants to bet on the first game he blows for the Sox?

A Win Is A Win

If last night was an audition for the post-season rotation, then Clay Buchholz choked under pressure. Luckily for the Sox, Chicago had a senior citizen on the mound trying to run down ground balls.

Boston's 12-8 win over the White Sox was ugly, let there be no doubting that particular truth. Buchholz pitched a lousy game; 4.2 innings of work, giving up seven runs on six hits and two homers. Chicago got a runner to third or across the plate in six of nine innings. Boston pitchers got the White Sox to go down in order only twice, in the first and sixth innings. It was not a sterling display of pitching, although Oki handled his 1/3 of an inning cleanly. But the bottom line is that the bullpen held down Chicago for the final 4 1/3 innings of the game (one run, two hits, three walks) while Boston's bats did their work.

And work they did. Boston has become quite adept at scoring with two outs, something they have struggled with most of this year. Their six run third-inning rally came with two outs. In fact, eleven of Boston's twelve runs last night came with two outs. But it all started in the third, thanks to Jose Contreras.

With the bases loaded in the third, Ortiz hit a weak grounder down the first base line. Rather than dog it (and that is not to imply that Ortiz would dog it), Ortiz ran out the ball. Contreras charged the ball to keep it from going foul and it popped off his glove. Ortiz ran around him to first, Gonzalez scored from third and the rout was on. Contreras walked Bay to bring in another run, then uncorked a wild pitch to bring Youk home, and capped the worst sequence suffered by a pitcher in recent memory by serving up a three-run homer to Mike Lowell. Then it was shower time for Contreras.

By that time it was 7-4. The next inning the Sox tacked on two more, which they needed when Paul Konerko cranked a three-run shot in the top of the fifth to make it 9-7. But a J.D. Drew solo shot, a sweet run-scoring triple from Ellsbury and Pedroia's RBI double made it 12-7 and put the game out of reach.

Boston's offense has been otherworldly as of late. Last night every starter except for Ortiz and V-Mart had at least one hit. Every starter reached base at least once. Six of the nine starters had at least one RBI and four batters (Ellsbury, Pedroia, Youk and Gonzalez) had a multi-hit game.

And let's take note of the "weak-hitting" Alex Gonzalez. Many, many people said that he was no better than any shortstop because he couldn't hit and would point to his .212 batting average for the season. What they missed was that Gonzalez was hitting .275 over the last month prior to his arrival in Boston. Since his first game with Boston on August 15, he has appeared in nine games. Gonzalez has gotten at least one hit in six of those nine games. He has scored six runs and collected 3 RBI. Oh, and he cranked a homer in that 14-1 shellacking of the Yankees. He's hitting .257 with Boston right now. Put that together with his glove and I think we can all be pleased with his return to Fenway.

Jason Bay is officially back in the saddle. Since August 9th he has appeared in 14 games. Bay has hit in 11 of those games while collecting six homers and 12 RBI while scoring 12 runs. His OPS for August is 1.113 and now we'll likely hear about how much his potential extension in the off-season is increasing in value. Last night Bay went 1-4 with a run scored and one RBI, his 88th of the year. Three more homers along with 12 RBI will give Bay his 30/100 we expected from him back in April. I think the odds are high he will exceed that expectation. And don't look now, but Bay is sixth in homers, eighth in runs scored, third in RBI and second in walks. Has he gotten any MVP buzz yet. I am not saying Bay should win (his batting average is just .257), but if he keeps up this production I think he at least deserves to get some votes.

And Ellsbury is still stalled at 54 steals. He'll break Harper's record this year for sure. But I'd like it to be sooner than later so the focus can shift to Ellsbury beating out Crawford for the AL title.

So tonight is the second of four with Chicago. It's Jon Lester and Freddy Garcia. Remember when Garcia was a good pitcher? As recently as 2006 he had a 17-9 record with the White Sox. He had that fantastic 2001 season in Seattle when he went 18-6 and was third in the Cy Young voting. But he injured his shoulder in the '06 off-season, hid the injury from the Phillies (who he was traded to that winter) and then struggled with the Tigers and Mets before rejoining the White Sox in January of 2009. He has started one game and didn't look good doing it. So if Lester is on his game, Boston's offensive juggernaut should take care of the rest.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Empire Rises Again

The chase for the AL East division title is all but over.

It's just a matter of time, but the Yankees will rule the division for the first time since 2006 after smashing five homers off Red Sox ace Josh Beckett in an 8-4 victory Sunday at Fenway to take the rubber game in the series and secure a 7-1/2 game lead with 38 to play, 39 for the Sox.

As I said before, it is not impossible for the Red Sox to come back, but the odds are growing increasingly long. It would a massive slump by the Yankees coinciding with an incredible surge by the Sox ... and I just don't see either happening -- the Yankees, unlike the Mets, are not known for choking down the stretch.

My advice to Red Sox Nation: forget about the division and worry about the wild card, where you have a one game lead over the Rangers, three over the Rays.

The Empire is back, ready to rule the division yet again ... thanks to the thunder in the Yankees' bats and a strong outing from CC Sabathia.

The Yankees were looking to Sabathia to deliver a big performance, and while it was a battle, the big lefty delivered, becoming the first pitcher in the majors to win 15 games this season and inserting himself into contention for his second AL Cy Young Award.

Sabathia (15-7, 3.59 ERA) allowed four runs -- three earned -- on eight hits in 6-2/3 tough innings. He struck out eight and threw 80 of 118 pitches for strikes, but had to battle his way through the start as the Red Sox put together tough at-bat after tough at-bat, fouling off pitch after pitch in making CC work to put away hitters.

He allowed two runs in the second on an RBI single by Rocco Baldelli and an RBI double by Jason Varitek to tie it a 2. Baldelli also had a sacrifice fly in the sixth.

The only other run Sabathia allowed was the result of a dropped popup by Robinson Cano in the fourth, one of two errors by the second baseman on a day the defense didn't help its starter, failing to make several plays. But aces don't make excuses. They pick up their defense and find a way to hold down the opponent.

That's exactly was CC did as the offense pounded Beckett.

The Yankees batters took a radically different approach to facing Beckett than we normally see: they were aggressive.

And you need look no further than Derek Jeter for evidence. Leading off the game, he jumped on a first-pitch, 96 mph fastball and put it over the wall in right for a 1-0 that erased an momentum the Sox might have had coming off Saturday's 14-1 victory. It was Jeter's 2,700 career hit and in his first three at-bats Sunday, Jeter swung at the first pitch each time.

That's not the normal Yankee approach. The Bombers are second in the AL in walks, first in pitches seen and third in pitches per plate appearance. In this game, 16 of 33 at-bats were over in three pitches or less.

But you can't argue with the results as the Yankees were able to do damage early in the count and prevent Beckett from jumping ahead and took away his options for putting batters away.

Hideki Matsui hit two more homers Sunday, a blast to right-center in the second that made it 2-0 and a poke down the right-field line in the eighth that made it 8-4 and just about sealed the victory.

In the three games, Godzilla unleashed some fierce power, hitting four homers -- giving him 23 on the season -- and driving in nine. It's a shame what knee injuries have done to this guy because when healthy he can still play.

The problem is that his knees are so beat up, it is so difficult to keep him in the lineup on a regular basis. Matsui's still productive, but he's in the final year of his contract, so don't expect him to return next year. I just hope he chooses to retire so the Yankees can give him a proper sendoff.

The Yankees pushed across two more in the third on a Mark Teixeira single and an Alex Rodriguez groundout to retake the lead at 4-2 before lineup flexed a little more muscle.

Cano smoked a homer -- his career-high tying 19th -- to right-center in the third to make it 5-2 before A-Rod made things comfortable with a line-drive, two-run homer in the fifth that snuck over the Monster to make it 7-3.

The result was an ugly, ugly line for Beckett (14-5, 3.65), who allowed at least one run in each of the first five innings and a career-high five homers. His line: eight runs on nine hits in eight innings. He struck out five and threw 87 of 120 pitches for strikes.

And in case Sox fans need a reminder how different the Yankees are now than they were in April, May and June when they lost the first eight games to Boston, consider this: On June 8, the Yankees held a 3-1 lead entering the bottom of the eighth at Fenway with Sabathia on the mound, already having thrown about 110 pitches. But at that time, Joe Girardi had no faith in his bullpen and tried to squeeze two more outs out of his starter, resulting in a 4-3 loss.

Sunday Girardi went to his bullpen with two outs in the seventh, with Phil Hughes allowing just one hit in 1-1/3 innings before the Sox proved how much they own Mariano Rivera by getting a leadoff walk in the ninth and failing to score.

The Empire is back and will have a division title in short order to prove it.

Runners In Scoring Position
1-for-3 (.333)
304-for-1,151 (.264)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
87-for-332 (.262)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
239-for-879 (.272)
Vs. Red Sox
36-for-163 (.221)

Up Next
Tuesday vs. Rangers, 7:05 p.m., Local TV (Check your listings)
Kevin Millwood (9-8, 3.48) vs. Joba Chamberlain (8-3, 3.98)

Sox fans should actually be rooting for the Yankees for three day as the Bombers face a wild card contender.

Short Take On The Series

Too much to do at my real job today to work up a full post. But I can definitively state one thing right now: giving up five homers is not a good thing.

That was the second rough outing in a row for Beckett, who has surrendered eight homers in his last two starts. And this one presents a slight problem for those who wanted to put his last outing on the back of Victor Martinez (note that Beckett is NOT one of these people). Varitek was catching last night and now the chowderheads at WEEI may have to acknowledge that Beckett had a couple of bad starts. Well, it happens. No one is perfect all the time. For example, in 1968 Bob Gibson put together a great season. He was the NL MVP, NL Cy Young winner and TSN Pitcher of the Year. That same year he had a four-game losing streak and lost three of five to close the year out.

Losing streaks happen. Bad games happen. Even to the damn good pitchers. So yes, Beckett got rocked again. And the timing of it absolutely sucked. But it isn't the end of Boston's playoff hopes. Because the last time I checked, the season didn't end yesterday.

Also, if you could have bet on Junichi Tazawa being the best starting pitcher in the entire series I think retirement would be an option for you this morning. So that's an encouraging sign for Boston fans as well. As is the return of Tim Wakefield to the rotation on Wednesday.

Yes, it was a rough couple of games for the Sox, who are now 7.5 games behind the Yankees and just one game in front of the Rangers. But if the Sox can go town on the White Sox (and the matchups do look good for them), then Boston should be able to catch up on the Yanks and/or put some space between themselves and the Rangers since those two teams have three games together starting Tuesday. As long as the Sox win the games, they'll benefit in one fashion or another. This season isn't over yet. It's only over when the math tells you it is.

Oh, and I have to chime in on the Billy Wagner rumors. Are you f-ing kidding me, Theo? Really? Wagner is a loudmouth who pisses off his teammates wherever he goes. Ask the Philly clubhouse how much they liked him. Or the New York clubhouse, for that matter. And who blew that save in August of 2007 that ended up costing the Mets a shot at the postseason? Oh right...Wagner. You may as well call him "Gagne 2.0" because if this deal is real and goes through, that's what we'll end up getting. Blech.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Spotlight On CC

Make no mistake about it. This is a big start for CC Sabathia.

There is no way to understate it because the reason the Yankees got CC is for games exactly like this.

Sabathia will take the mound tonight against Red Sox ace Josh Beckett, looking to give the Yankees a dominant start and a series win in Boston that could all but lock up the division.

And the Yankees need it after A.J. Burnett's disaster Saturday in a 14-1 whitewash at Fenway that trimmed the Yankees' AL East lead to 6-1/2 games. It was the second straight poor start for the Yankees -- a rarity since the All-Star break. The Yankees are 26-9 in that stretch, having allowed three runs or less in 19 of those games, including two shutouts.

So, what the hell happened, A.J.?

In his previous 12 starts, Burnett was 9-3 with a 2.59 ERA and .220 batting average against. That includes 7-2/3 scoreless innings in the 1-0, 15-inning win over the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium Aug. 7.

He sure picked a bad time for a clunker, allowing nine runs on nine hits, including three homers, in five innings.

He was flat-out bad. Burnett and Jorge Posada just couldn't get on the same page, but this wasn't about how Burnett and Posada work with each other. That's not an issue -- afterall, in that brilliant 12 game-stretch entering this game, Posada had caught 10 of those games.

No, this game was about Burnett's stuff. It just wasn't good. He couldn't make any big pitches to escape jams and lacked command of his fastball, which allowed the Red Sox's hitters sit on his curveball.

The result was awful as Kevin Youkilis had a big day with two homers and six RBI to lead a resurgent Red Sox offense.

What's disconcerting is that Burnett entered this season with a career ERA of 0.50 at Fenway. In three starts in Boston this year, he's 0-2 with a 14.21 ERA.

But there are two pieces of good news: Burnett will not have another regular season start at Fenway this year, and after his last disastrous start at Fenway, he began that 12-game roll. I'm betting this start will be nothing more than a blip and Burnett will finish the season strong.

Unfortunately for Burnett, he had no support from the offense, which was able to get plenty of runners on against Junichi Tazawa, but apparently had used up all of its big hits in its 20-run outburst the night before. Saturday the Yankees went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position after going 15-for-25 the night before.

That failure to get to Tazawa early allowed the rookie making his third career start to gain confidence and gut out six innings, allowing eight hits and two walks.

The Yankees' only run came on Nick Swisher's one-out homer off Daniel Bard in the seventh, making it 12-1.

That leaves the series up to Sabathia.

The Yankees got the big lefthander to be a workhorse and ace, a stopper. They survived a poor outing by Andy Pettitte on Friday because the offense was able to feast of even worse pitching by the Sox. Burnett was miserable Saturday and the offense couldn't pick him up.

Sabathia needs to be brilliant against Beckett.

CC shouldn't be counting on a whole lot of offensive support, but if he continues to pitch as well has he has in his previous four starts this month, that shouldn't matter much.

CC is 4-0 with a 2.35 ERA in four starts in August with opponents hitting just .185 against him. He is 32-9 in his career in August and win tonight would be huge.

Just to be clear, a loss would not kill the Yankees. They still would have a 5-1/2 game lead in the division and would be in control. But twice this season we have seen the Yankees wipe out a five-game deficit in a matter of two weeks, so the pressure would remain on the Yankees to keep the pedal to the medal.

But if Sabathia can give the Yankees a win, they'd have a 7-1/2 game lead with 38 games left (Sox will have 39 left). While that is not impossible to overcome, the odds of the Red Sox doing so would be long.

Consider: If the Yankees go just 19-19, the Sox would have to go 27-12, a .692 winning percentage just to tie. Since the All-Star break, the Sox (70-52) have gone 16-18. Also, we have seen no evidence all season that they are capable of putting together that kind of extended stretch. Boston's best stretch was an 11-game win streak in April and of its 39 remaining games, 17 are on the road, where they are 31-33. The Yankees (77-46), meanwhile, have the second-best road record in the AL at 36-28.

So the pressure is on CC tonight. Let's see the lefty go out and deliver a win.

Runners In Scoring Position
0-for-9 (.000)
303-for-1,148 (.264)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
87-for-329 (.264)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
238-for-876 (.272)
Vs. Red Sox
35-for-160 (.219)

Up Next
Sunday at Red Sox, 8:05 p.m., ESPN
Sabathia (14-7, 3.58 ERA) vs. Beckett (14-4, 3.38)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Wild 48 Hours

Have you ever seen two games more different than the first two games of this Sox-Yanks series? We get a 20-11 hammering of the Sox followed by a 14-1 beatdown of the Yanks. Joy and anguish have never been shuffled back and forth more quickly between the two fanbases.

But you will notice a very significant difference in the two games. Whereas the Yankees have yet to see any good pitching from their side, the Sox got a very gutsy performance today from Junichi Tazawa. A performance in sharp contrast to last night's debacle from Brad Penny.

Let's briefly go over Penny's performance on Friday night: Four innings, 10 hits and eight runs, all earned. While he actually threw a decent amount of strikes (64% of all pitches) he just hung stuff over the plate over and over again. He looked shot. The latest word is that Tim Wakefield will be taking his next start. And with Buchholz seeming to find a groove and Tazawa hanging tough today, it looks like Penny has lost his starting slot.

Any chance that the Sox could bounce back from Penny's start (they did score 11 runs last night) was killed when Michael Bowden came on in relief and gave up seven runs in two innings. Ouch.

The only thing Boston could take away from last night is that they could hit New York's pitching. After all, even in a loss, 11 runs is a lot. But it turns out that was a big thing to take away from the game.

Fast forward to Saturday. Junichi Tazawa takes the mound. His last appearance against the Yanks resulted in giving up a game-ending homer. His last outing was a rough one in Texas. After Friday night, a lot of Boston fans were fearing the worst.

Instead, Tazawa gives one of the gutsiest performances by a rookie pitcher in recent memory. Against the toughest lineup in the game (and let's be honest, right now that's the truth), Tazawa held the Yanks to eight hits and no runs over six innings. While that happened, the Sox rocked AJ Burnett to the tune of nine runs in five innings. And that was pretty much that.

It could have been different. Tazawa allowed a minimum of one base runner each inning. He had runners on third four times, three times with less than two outs. But instead of getting psyched out, Tazawa manned up and got out of the innings. His most impressive job was in the sixth when he had men on first and third with one out. One a 1-1 pitch to Melky Cabrera, Tazawa got him to ground into a double play. My favorite moment was in the third when he ended the inning on a full-count called third strike to A-Rod. And he did it on his fourth straight curve ball. What guts! As a Boston fan, you have to love watching Tazawa get a little back.

It was also nice to see the relief corps do its job. Bard pitched a seventh inning that wasn't his best (two hits, one run, two strikeouts) but was more than adequate considering the circumstances. And then recent callup Enrique Gonzalez pitched a solid eighth and ninth inning to finish the game. Gonzalez had a much worse outing against the Yanks in the Bronx, as did Bard. Actually, all the pitchers today got a little revenge on the Yankees. Good work, fellas.

But what was truly impressive was the hitting. For the second straight game Boston's batters treated New York's pitching staff like a dog treats a chew toy. The score was 7-0 after two innings. Of their 14 runs, 13 of them were scored with two outs. Boston was 7-11 with runners in scoring position (by comparison, the Yanks were 0-9). Every starter except for Ellsbury and Varitek had at least one hit.

But out of all the impressive hitting displays from Boston today, none was more eye-popping than the hitting clinic put on by Kevin Youkilis. Youk went 3-5 with two homers, two runs scored and six RBI, tying his career high. He was locked in and is quietly inserting himself into the MVP discussion, in my opinion. He is second in the AL in OBP, SLG and OPS. His .308 average is on the cusp of breaking into the top 10. And he wields a mean glove at first and third. It would take a few more games like this to boost his numbers enough to be in the public MVP discussion. But I think it's something to watch.

Any other day, David Ortiz going 2-4 with three RBI would be big news. That gives Papi 20 or more homers for eight straight seasons. He seems to be finding his stroke late in the season. If Papi can keep hitting like this, then Boston becomes a lot more dangerous.

Also, it's a sure sign that a pitcher doesn't have his stuff when Alex Gonzalez hit a Monster homer off of him. You'd have thought Youk hit that ball.

And a tip of the proverbial cap to Jacoby Ellsbury for tying Tommy Harper's single-season steals record of 54 on Friday night. Ellsbury should break it in the next game or two. It also tied him with Carl Crawford for the AL steals lead. If Ellsbury wins the AL steals title again this year (he won it in 2008 with 50 steals), he would be the first Boston player to lead the AL in steals since Billy Werber did it in 1934-35.

Sunday marks the rubber match. It's also the marquee matchup, with Josh Beckett and CC Sabathia facing off. The odds are that this game will be lower-scoring. But best of all is that Boston has a legit chance of taking two of three from the Yanks, a prospect that seemed pretty thin after Friday night.

It's Ugly, But It's A Win

I'd hate to be a Red Sox fan this morning.

The only thing worse that watching and suffering through a game such as Friday's is losing. Man, was that ugh-lee!

Yes, the Yankees' offense put on a hitting clinic, pounding out 23 hits, but the reality is that the Yankees' pitching was less awful than the Red Sox's in the 20-11 victory at Fenway. The 31 runs are the most ever scored in a game between these two teams.

The victory snapped the Yankees' seven-losing streak at Fenway, moved the Yanks 7-1/2 games ahead of the Sox in the AL East and guaranteed they'll leave Boston with no worse than a 5-1/2 game lead. New York has also won five straight overall against Boston, outscoring the Sox, 45-19.

The Yankees have gone 26-8 since the All-Star break, including winning eight of their last 10 and 15 of 18. The Red Sox, meanwhile, have gone only 15-18 since the break.

How bad was the Yankees' pitching? Well, if I was told that Damaso Marte would have been their best pitcher last night, I'd have sworn the Yankees would have lost.

Andy Pettitte (10-6, 4.25 ERA) labored but kept the Sox off the board through four innings before coming apart after the Yankees' six-run, 29-minute fifth inning. He ended up allowing seven runs -- five earned -- on seven hits and two walks in 5+ innings, He struck out four and threw 64 of 105 pitches for strikes.

Let's consider this victory a makup for all the no-decisions he had since the break in which he's pitched brilliantly.

After four straight sharp outings, Brian Bruney was awful, allowing a hit, three walks and two inherited runners to score in an inning of work. He threw just 14 of 37 pitches for strikes before Marte, who activated from the DL earlier in the day, retired his only two batters.

Sergio Mitre finished it off, pitching a flawless eighth before allowing four in the ninth.

But the Red Sox pitchers were much, much, much worse. In fact they were beyond terrible.

Starter Brad Penny (7-8, 5.61) was pounded from the beginning, allowing eight runs on 10 his and a walk in 4+ innings.

I thought he couldn't have been much worse until Michael Bowden came on a was absolutely mauled, allowing seven runs on eight hits and three walks in two innings. Manny Delcarmen allowed a run in the seventh, Takashi Saito was flawless in the eighth and Ramon Ramirez gave up four more -- three earned -- in the ninth.

It all added up for a huge day for the Yankees' offense -- so huge that it's just not practical to even attempt to cap a run-by-run recap.

The hitting star was Hideki Matsui, who went 2-for-6 with two homers in a seven RBI. His three-run homer in the six-run fifth off Bowden broke open the game and his three-run home in the ninth put the cherry on top.

His seven RBI were the most by a Yankee against the Red Sox since Joe Pepiton in 1964 and the most by a Yankee at Fenway since Lou Gehrig.

It turned into a night for everyone to pad his states. Everyone except Johnny Damon and Jerry Hairston Jr. collected a hit and drove in a run, and everyone but Damon scored a run. (More on Damon in a bit).

Alex Rodriguez snapped out his recent doldrums, going 4-for-4 with his first triple since 2006. His RBI single in the second made it 6-0.

Derek Jeter went 3-for-6 with two RBI to raise his batting average to .333, Mark Teixeira went 3-for-5 with three RBI, including a two-run double in the second that make it 5-0, and Jorge Posada went 2-for-5 with a big, two-out, two-run double in the first to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead. Melky Cabrera went 4-for-6.

Everyone did something, so best to take a look at the box score. The offense was so ridiculous that it went 15-for-25 with runners in scoring position. Yikes!

In fact the only down note offensively on the night was that Damon was forced to leave the game in the first after getting hit on the side of the knee by a foul ball. Take a sigh of relief Yankee fans, X-rays came back negative and he's day-to-day, though not expected to play today. It could have been much, much worse. Fortunately it wasn't.

It was ugly, but it was a win -- and putting a hurting the Sox does feel good. But now it's time for the Yankees to turn the page and hopefully get a much crisper win today.

Runners In Scoring Position
15-for-25 (.600)
303-for-1,139 (.266)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
87-for-320 (.272)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
238-for-867 (.275)
Vs. Red Sox
35-for-151 (.232)

Up Next
Saturday at Red Sox, 4:10 p.m., Fox
A.J. Burnett (10-6, 3.69) vs. Junichi Tazawa (1-2, 5.40)

Burnett has to pitch better than anyone did yesterday, right? The good news for the Yankees is that they didn't have to touch Phil Coke, Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves or Mariano Rivera Friday, so if Burnett can't get into the seventh with a lead, the Yankees will be in good shape. I just hope the offense still has something left in the tank against the rookie, Tazawa.

You could cash in on the Yankees and Sox by betting online. Who would win the head to head though?

Friday, August 21, 2009


The conventional wisdom is that the pressure is on the Red Sox this weekend.

Afterall, They are 6-1/2 games behind the Yankees in the AL East, failing to pickup a game in the 10 games since their last meeting despite going 7-3. More importantly, they are in dogfight for their playoff lives, a game ahead of the Rangers in the wild card chase.

To a large extent, that thinking is correct. The Sox need to win games. Period. The Yankees could get swept this weekend and still would have a 3-1/2 game-lead in the AL East with 38 games to play.

But all that should not and does not matter to the Yankees. There is no "x-" next to New York in the standings indicating a playoff spot has been locked up, nor is there a "y-" showing the division race is over.

The is still a ton of work to do and this weekend presents the Yankees with a golden opportunity to finish off the Sox in the division race once and for all.

The Yanks must take at least two of three.

Do not let the Red Sox have a sniff of life. Do not give them any hope. Do not let them believe they hold some sort of big advantage over you at Fenway.

And the reality is that even though the Red Sox's hitting (ie Jason Bay and Artificially Big Papi) has come to life since the last time our two rivals last met, the Yankees have the clear advantage in starting pitching in the first two games before what should be a delightful pitchers' duel Sunday night.

Tonight, Andy Pettitte (9-6, 4.09 ERA) takes on Brad Penny (7-7, 5.22).

Pettitte has been the Yankees' best and most consistent pitcher since the All-Star break, going 1-1 in six starts, but posting a 2.04 ERA and 1.03 WHIP while striking out 43 in 39-2/3 innings. They Yankees have gone 4-2 in those six games.

Penny, meanwhile, has been a five- or six-inning pitcher who is 1-4 since the All-Star break with a 6.62 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in six starts spanning 34 innings.

In the Fox game Saturday, A.J. Burnett (10-6, 3.69) faces rookie Junichi Tazawa (1-2, 5.40), who is making just his third major league start.

Burnett, who is coming off a tough-luck loss in which he allowed three runs in eight innings, has been the Yankees' best pitcher since early June. In the previous series against the Sox, he battled Josh Beckett into the eighth inning of a scoreless game that eventually ended in the 15th with Alex Rodriguez hitting a two-run homer off Tazawa, who was making his major league debut.

Tazawa's two starts have been mixed: one was solid and the other, not so good. Tazawa has the potential and ability to pitch a big game, but I doubt any sane Red Sox fan would be willing to put down good money that he will.

The finale feature what should be a gem: CC Sabathia (14-7, 3.58) vs. Beckett (14-4, 3.38). Sabathia has been on fire in August, winning all four of his starts, including throwing 7-2/3 shutout innings against the Sox in the last go-around. Beckett is coming off a rough start in a game the Sox eventually won against the Jays, but he is having a Cy Young-caliber season to this point.

Clearly the opportunity is there for the Yankees to take at least two and all but end division race.

They just have to out and finish the job.

Swept Clean

You know the Sox are starting to roll when the starting pitcher doesn't have his best stuff but gets the win and their oft-injured, under-performing right fielder knocks the cover off the ball. You know that good energy is flowing when an 8-1 slaughter completes a three-game sweep of the Jays and give the Sox a 7-3 record in their last 10 games.

The slumbering giant may finally be awakening.

Let's look at the pitching first. Jon Lester dominates the AL East (20-5 lifetime after last night). So most of us were expecting a win. But Lester didn't have his best stuff last night. He only threw 57% of his pitches for strikes and only threw first-pitch strikes to 30% of the batters he faced. Lester's K/BB ratio for the game (2.5) was his worst since a July 30 outing against Oakland where he walked more batters than he struck out.

And yet he went eight innings and gave up just one run on three hits. How? He made a lot of second-pitch strikes. He faced a 1-0 count 19 times in the game; in 15 of those instances, he threw a strike. That's a 79% success rate. Of the 38 pitches Lester threw when he was behind in the count, 31 were for strikes. That's an 82% success rate. Lester was able to constantly extract himself out of a bad count and get the out. This is what good pitchers do on a day where they aren't at their best.

Cabrera came on in the ninth and just surrendered one walk. But that was of little importance by that time. Cabrera has made four game appearances and has allowed no runs in three of them. He is developing into another solid part of the bullpen.

J.D., a game like last night is a joy and a frustration at the same time. It's a joy because Drew owned the game. He went 4-4 with a pair of homers, scored two runs and drove in three. Drew kicked off Boston's scoring and then threw it into overdrive in the fourth. And he make it look easy, which speaks to his talent.

It's a frustration because Drew rarely displays his talent like this. He should be one of the best batters in the league and he isn't. He's a decent batter who flashes his inherent greatness now and again and then refuses to embrace it. I don't know why. But if Drew would play at even 80% of the talent level he displayed last night on a regular basis, he'd be worth every penny of his bloated contract. Instead, it's just another reminder of what he should be to the team...and isn't.

But in many ways, the biggest help the Sox had last night was Toronto starter Brett Cecil, who made one of the most boneheaded plays I have ever seen in my life.

As early as Little League, if you are a pitcher the first thing you learn is to never let go of the ball unless you're pitching it or throwing it. Unless you call time, the ball is live and any runner can try to advance. Brett Cecil forgot this basic rule last night.

With the score tied at 1-1, Jason Bay drew a walk to lead off the fourth. Cecil went 2-0 to Ortiz and then dropped the throw back to the mound from Rod Barajas. No big deal, right? Pitchers drop throws back to the mound all the time. You just pick it up and keep going. Except Cecil saw a scuff on the ball.

Okay, so you just call time, request a new ball and the game continues, right? Wrong. If you're Brett Cecil you request a new ball, forget to call time, and then huck your ball into the dugout. The ball that is currently the live game ball. Big ol' error right there for Cecil.

The result was Bay hustling his butt to third base*. Two batters later, Mike Lowell drove him in with a single. And that was followed by Drew's second homer of the game. The score was 4-1 Boston and that was about all she wrote.

I also want to praise once more the trade for Victor Martinez. He went 1-5 with a homer, his third in five games. Since joining the Sox at the trade deadline, he has five homers and 14 RBI in 17 games. He's batting .324 with a .979 OPS over that same period. More often than not, Theo's deadline trades work out. There was this one, last year's deal for Bay, the two-fer back in 2004. On the other side of the ledger is the useless 2007 deal for Eric Gagne and the god-awful 2003 deal that sent Mike Gonzalez and Freddy Sanchez to the Pirates for Jeff Suppan. So it really is "more often than not." Theo's free agent signings...we'll leave those for another day.

And so the Sox come home riding a sweep of the Jays to face their constant nemesis, the New York Yankees. That is, if the weather decides to co-operate. There's a 50%-60% chance of rain all weekend, with the occasional thunderstorm throw in for fun. But if the games get off the ground, it starts tonight with Andy Pettitte going against Brad Penny. I'd wager it'll be a stolen base fest for New York tonight since it takes Penny the better part of an hour to get a pitch into his catcher's glove. Still, Penny has it in himself to throw a good game and Pettitte has thrown a clunker or three in his time. So this is a winnable match for the Sox. And if they want to get back in the AL East race (not a requirement for the post-season but still nice), then Boston had better make them all winnable matches.


* Does Manny make this play? I say we'd be lucky if he made it to second base. Once again, if you look at the defense and situational awareness that Bay brings to his game, the Sox made out big-time in that deal.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

West Coast Rockers


Now that's getting the job done on a seven-game West Coast swing -- and that's how you start draining hope from Red Sox Nation that the pretenders from Beantown will be able to catch the Yankees for the division title.

On Wednesday, Mark Teixeira homered and drove in all three runs to support spot starter Chad Gaudin and the bullpen in a 3-2 victory over the A's in Oakland to remain seven games in front of the Sox in the AL East.

The victory guarantees that when our two rivals begin their three-game set in Boston Friday, the Yankees will have no worse than the same 6-1/2 game lead the held following their four-game sweep of the Sox, who play at Toronto tonight, 10 games ago.

After that sweep, Red Sox Nation was holding onto hope that the Sox could still take the division, citing the two head-to-head series remaining between the teams and the Yankees' schedule that included two West Coast trips.

Well, one of the West Coast trip is out of the way.

The Yankees turned to Gaudin to finish off the A's as they try to limit Joba Chamberlain's innings.

In his first start since being acquired from the Padres, Gaudin was wild, but decent enough. In 4-1/3 innings, he allowed no runs on one hit, but walked five. He struck out five, but threw 90 pitches -- 51 strikes -- in coming up short of qualifying for the victory.

The walks clearly were an indication that Gaudin had a little rust, but he battled and competed and kept the Yankees in the game. The hope is that he will be sharper his next time out, though no one knows for sure when that will be at this point as the Yankees figure out how to juggle the rotation, space out Joba and get A.J. Burnett, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte some rest down the stretch.

Teixeira, meanwhile, carried the offense, driving in Derek Jeter with a ground out in the first before crushing a 94 mph fastball over the wall in left for a two-run homer in the fourth to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead.

That was all the Yankees were able to get off Brett Anderson (7-9, 4.51 ERA), who allowed six hits and one walk while striking out six in seven innings, but it was enough.

The bullpen made the lead stand up, though Alfredo Aceves (8-1, 3.82) struggled yet again, allowing Jack Cust's homer in the sixth and Mark Ellis' RBI single in the seventh while pitching 2-1/3 innings.

Ace has not been sharp recently, allowing runs in five of his last seven appearances. In his five appearances in August, he's allowed seven runs on 12 hits spanning 13 innings.

Whether Ace is tired, coming back to earth or simply going through a slump, the Yankees have to be careful here. They need to get him through this funk and rest, right now, would seem to be the best option.

Fortunately the rosters will expand in 12 days, giving the team some extra arms. Until then, Joe Girardi should start using Brian Bruney, who has not thrown a lot of innings this year and seems to be over his slump, more and in pressurized situations.

Phil Coke pitched a third of an inning before Phil Hughes got through a tough eighth, getting a double play after allowing a walk and single to start the inning. Mariano Rivera then finished it off in seven pitches for his 36th save and 32nd straight.

The Yankees now have a day off as they fly back to the East Coast happy and confident heading into the big series in Boston.

Runners In Scoring Position
0-for-3 (.000)
288-for-1,114 (.259)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
72-for-295 (.244)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
223-for-842 (.265)
Vs. Red Sox
20-for-126 (.159)

Up Next
Friday at Red Sox, 7:05 p.m., YES, NESN
Pettitte (9-6, 4.09) vs. Brad Penney (7-7, 5.22)