Friday, August 31, 2007

Ian Kennedy Scouting Report

I know a lot of people on this blog (and off) think I'm full of it when it comes to Yankees prospects. It's not unfair. I talk about them a lot. And it seems hard to believe the Yankees have this many good prospects.

But look at Phil Hughes. And look at Joba Chamberlain.

The third and final piece of The Big 3 is starting Saturday in place of Mike Mussina, and again, trust me when I tell you this kid is for real. If there was no Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain, people would be talking about him as the future. Phil Hughes is going to lose his prospect status this year (50+ ML innings), so look for Kennedy to show up this winter as the third best pitching prospect in baseball behind only Joba and Buchholz, in that order. Here's a quick scouting report.

Kennedy isn't going to wow you with any of his stuff like a Hughes, Chamberlain, or Buchholz. But a true baseball entusiast is going to apprecaite what he does on the mound immediately. He has a 2-seam fastball that sits 90-93. This is up from 88-90 previously, which many attribute to his fast track rise this year. He teams this primarily with a tremendous sinking change-up that he is able to throw from the same arm angle and with the same arm speed, just 10-12 mph slower at 78-80. It also has the same movement as his 2-seam fastball and on the same plane, making it incredibly deceptive. It's great movement also allows him to throw if for a strike without it getting launched. He also has a curveball that has made huge strides this year, and has the type of rotation that has it on the verge of becoming a plus pitch. Ian also mixes in a quality slider.

Kennedy's biggest qualities, however, are poise and control. He has drawn countless comparisons to Greg Madduz in that when he pitches it seems like he can walk the ball up and place it where the catcher's mit is set up. Also, since he started at USC for three years, he is polished, knows how to pitch, and is used to pitching in big games. They say he simply doesn't get rattled on the mound.

An already highly touted prospect, the 2006 First Round Draft Pick of the Yankees just in front of Joba Chamberlain, exploded this year. In 146.1 innings between High A, AA, and AAA this year, he is 12-3 with a 1.91 ERA. He has compiled 163 strikeouts over only 50 walks, while allowing only 91 hits, 6 home runs, and a .182 BA against. Look familiar? Those numbers are, almost to the T, what Phil Huhges', the #1 pitching prospect in all of baseball, numbers looked like last year, pretty much at the same levels (no AAA for Philly last year). So that tells you something. I am really, really excited to see this kid pitch.

Who shot John F. Kennedy?

That is probably the second biggest mystery in the world to Red Sox fans this season...and until 2011.

The biggest mystery, of course, is Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the $70 Contract. A smaller mystery could actually be "Why is Nancy Drew in the Major Leagues?" because major league hitters can hit the ball out of the infield. I'm not defending my boy Coco, who went 0-for-the-series, but at least he hits fly outs. I'm not defending Julio Lugo, but even in his 7-for-June performance, he was hitting hard line drives for outs. I'm not defending Wily Mo Pena, but at least 1) he swung hard at breaking balls in the dirt and 2) flew out a lot.

My brother pretty much summed it up today, as NESN was re-hashing the whole Youkilis/out of the base line double play stuff. "They would have avoided this problem if Drew could hit the ball out of the infield." Simply said, they would have avoided a lot of problems this year if Nancy Drew could hit the ball out of the infield. He hit the ball out of the infield a grand total of twice this series: a single and a fly out. He had three K's, 2 double plays, and a whopping four weak ground balls to the right side. Even John, who started the practice of "Let's Call DV When Drew Gets A Hit" admitted to me today that Nancy has been a disaster.

My dad has said for years, "you don't hit, you don't win." The Red Sox got no-hit through five innings two nights in a row. Tell me all about the games like this weekend's Chicago games, where they run up the score. Like New York, they have scored a crapload of runs. But it's been feast or famine. They've scored 9+ runs in 25 different games this year (18.6% of their games played), accounting for 275 (39%) of the 704 runs scored this year. Economics majors can make their jokes about the Lorenz curve now.

What does that mean? The other 109 games this year, your powerhouse Boston Red Sox, 2nd in the league in OBP, 4th in the league in runs scored, are averaging 3.93 runs per game. If you average less than four runs per game over the course of 109 games, it doesn't take a statistician to figure out you got a bit of an offensive problem! And now that you take away Manny Ramirez (145 runs produced--runs plus RBI minus HR) and replace him with Hinske for the next week-plus, things will not be much better.

Boston's outfield is Hinske, Coco, and Nancy Drew. As Tasty Taste said in the movie Fear of a Black Hat, "when you rollin wit this, would you be paranoid?"

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Game 3 Recap: Hello AL East?

A few days ago I wrote about how the AL East was over. It certainly looked that way. When you are coming off a 2-5 road trip, and about to open a three game series against the team with the best record in baseball, you aren't thinking sweep, which is the only way the Yankees could have gotten back into the East. You are thinking win the series, and definitely don't get swept, because you are still very much in the Wild Card.

Then the Yankees went out and got as smooth and clean of a sweep as you can get, holding the Red Sox to six runs and never allowing them to get a lead. Not one of the games even had any sort of drama, save maybe Chamberlain-Youkilis today. That the Yankees swept this series with pitching, allowing only 13 hits, which is one less hit than the Yankees had runs (14), is all the more impressive. The Red Sox are a team built on pitching, the Yankees built on offense. This series, the Yankees beat the Red Sox at their own game, with both teams' top three starters going, and that is not a good thing for Boston.

One win would have closed the door on the East. Making up seven games with 28 left wasn't happening. Five over 28 with three head to head left? That is a little over a game a week. It won't be easy, but the Red Sox will have to be careful not to let either of two things, and definitely not both, happen.

1. They can't let the Yankees play too much better than them against bad teams, especially since the schedule slightly favors the Yankees. The Yankees have 22 left against TB, KC, Bal, and Tor. The Red Sox only 19, and no KC. The Yankees have 3 with Boston and 3 with Seattle. The Red Sox have 3 with NYY, 3 with Oak, and 3 with Min. Anything can happen, but we have seen what the Yankees are capable of against those teams. My main point is, the Red Sox don't want to go 10-9 in those 19 games. DV and I talked about that at length last night.

2. They can't let the Yankees come into Boston and do big things two weeks from now. It is a weekend series, all three games are national, and the spotlight is going to be on. It didn't look like that three days ago, but things have changed. Boston definitely can't get swept, and probably needs to win the series. This could be problematic, as since the '04 Playoffs, the Yankees have won all the big regular season games they've needed to against Boston. It has been domination. '05 comeback, '06 five-game sweep, and here we are with another big sweep in '07, when all Boston needed was one game to end the divison. This is going to be fun.

On the Yankees side, it still won't be easy. I think they have put themselves in a great spot for the Wild Card, but the division is still going to be very much an uphill climb, and they need help from Boston. Plus, as my father cautioned last night, the last thing you want to do is burn out trying to win the division. What good is the division if you are wiped for the playoffs anyway? It's a great point. You have to play to win every game, but all that matters at the end of the day is getting in. Whether it is the division or Wild Card makes no difference. So as long as you are putting yourself in a position where you are going to get in, it doesn't make sense to use all your mental and physcial energy trying to get in by winning the divison. The only real reason for it (assuming you aren't in danger of losing the Wild Card), is that most likely the Yankees would have to play Anaheim in the ALDS. That IS a reason to win the division.

A few notes from today's game.

Wang was spectacular. Best start since June. Dominating sinker, great slider, especially under the hands to lefties. Never mind the no hitter through six, getting Big Papi swinging on the same pitch for two different K's in the same game tells you all you need to know.

Very impressive stuff from Schilling. He isn't throwing hard (87-89 mph, topping out at 91) but he is using his cutter and 2-seamer much more frequently with good results. Did a great job keeping the 2-seamer down and getting the cutter in on lefties. That makes up for some of the loss in velocity. He got a lot of curves and backdoor sliders over for strikes, and pounded the strike zone in general, like he always does. The biggest thing was the split, which was the best I've seen in this year. It had a great change of speed of his fastball, usually around 81 mph, and had a late dip. He didn't even really make any mistakes, as Robinson Cano, who is a stud, hit two out the other way, which for lefties is not easy to do. Usually those are doubles at worst, fly ball outs at best, so you can't say he made mistakes, he just got beat. If he pitches like this every time out, the Yankees will have a much tougher time catching the Red Sox.

Robinson Cano is a stud. Point blank. There were questions earlier this year when pitchers adjusted to him, chiefly could he adjust. He has, and there isn't going to be any slowing this kid down. The swing is too level, too consistent, and has way too much plate coverage and pop to keep him down. He is really letting the ball get deep into the strike zone again too, which he had gotten away from, and now he is drawing even more walks and hitting for even more power as a result. Scary.

Runs off Okajima. I love it. Really wanted to see Gagne though. What does that say about him, and how the coaching staff feels about him, that Snyder is coming into that game in the 8th?

Derek Jeter came into this series mired in a .150-something slump in his last 50-something at bats. He comes out and goes 7-11 with a homer, a double, an rbi, a walk, and two runs scored in this series. That is why he is a pretty good baseball player. Big games.

Reader/Commenter John, who obviously really knows his baseball, and I had a good discussion going in the comments the other day about playoff pitching staffs. He made a fair point that while the Yankees scare him in the playoffs, he'd rather see their rotation than Anaheim's or Cleveland's. Anaheim, no question, Cleveland, I'd disagree, but it's a fair opinon. Now, the real question after this series are Anaheim and Cleveland rooting for Boston so that they can see Boston's rotation instead of New York? I know it is only one series, and no Manny makes a big difference, but there is no lack of clarity in terms of who won that pitching match-up.

Sorry for the longwindedness. It is going to be a fun month. I'll be suprised if both of these teams don't make the playoffs, and the good money would be on Boston as the divison winner and the Yankees as the Wild Card. But after this sweep, that is no guarantee.

38 Bitches: Volume 11

Lots of things to say about Wednesday's game, Thursday's game, and everything else. I also have quite a bit to say about Kevin Kernan's article in Wednesday's NY Post, but I'll set that aside for another (HYD Baseball) post. I'll run down the more important observations here as quickly as I can.

1. Top story: Thursday is a must-win. Pat and I talked about this for a long time on the phone last night, and we came to this conclusion. I have my #1 Red Sox apologist reading over my shoulder in the ticket office as I write this, but he and everyone else can say whatever they want. Five games on August 31st is not big enough.

Obviously, it's a must-win for the Yankees. This isn't worth writing about.

But it's a must-win for Boston, too. In the last month of the season, the Red Sox have an easy schedule. They have two Baltimore series, two Toronto series, and two Tampa Bay series. They have the series against the Yankees. But, oh yeah. The Yankees have two Baltimore series, two Toronto series, and two Tampa Bay series. They have the series against the Red Sox.

The Sox have six against Oakland and Minnesota, who have always played tough against the team. The Yankees have the slumping Mariners and the pitiful Royals.

On top of that, the Yankees, as evidenced by the second half of the season and the 29-game "stretch," can beat the crap out of bad baseball teams a lot better than teams that have more trouble hitting. Like the Red Sox, especially without Manny Ramirez due to injury. So let's suppose over these games (TBD, TOR, BAL, SEA, KCR), the Yankees play four games better than the Red Sox. If the Sox lose today and the Yankees take only two out of three during the next series, that's a tie for the division. Not much else to say about that.

2. Another thing addressed in last night's phone call: A guy showed up last night that Red Sox fans didn't want to see. That guy would be "Josh Beckett 2006." Didn't throw his breaking stuff nearly as much (at least from what I saw from the Pride press box). Tried to throw the ball by guys. And--surprise--he got smacked around. He did well getting out of those jams, but clearly not enough. One walk and one home run means that it wasn't a total transformation, but he gave up 13 hits. Not exacly baffling. As people wrote about Farnsworth in last night's comments, people get pumped and jacked about big games and big moments like that. But not even Sidd Finch could throw by the Yankees.

3. I don't like to complain about umpiring. Obvious exceptions would include Game 4 of the 1999 ALCS...and other examples cited in that link. But last night would also have to count. In the eighth inning, there was a VERY low strike call by Mark Carlson against Coco Crisp. By "low" I mean "halfway down the shins." I'm very well aware that umpires in the last ten years have been instructed to call the low strike, but that was something else.

But whatever, calls like that happen. From what I've seen, it rarely impacts future pitches. But it did last night. The next pitch was also shin-high and Crisp, now with two strikes on him, swung at it and tapped it back to Rivera. Inning over. Again, whatever, that happens. It's unfortunate that it had to happen to my boy, especially after all the crap that went on the night before.

The fact that the SAME EXACT THING happened in the ninth to Hinske is what made me mad.

4. You will not win baseball games if you don't hit. Getting no-hit by Clemens for five innings is not acceptable. Getting no-hit by Chien-Ming Wang for five innings is not acceptable. Even less acceptable considering Wang is a pitcher with a high percentage of balls being put into play. And even less less acceptable considering that this is a MUST-WIN GAME.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Game 2 Recap

You can never truly think this way as a fan, because every game counts, no matter what. But wow, do I wish the Yankees were healthy in April.

They played the Red Sox for six games on the last two weekends in April. Jeff Karstens got two starts, and Chase Wright got one. Andy Pettitte was being used out of the bullpen because it was so decimated, and Chien-Ming Wang was getting run out there without a full rehab because they were so desperate. The Yankees went 1-5 in those games, including 0-3 at Fenway while scoring 17 runs off of Schilling, Beckett, and Matsuzaka. If they had been able to put any sort of Major Leaguer out there, instead of AAAAA, AAAA, AAA, or AA guys, it probably would have been at least a slightly different story.

But it wasn't, and that set the tone for the AL East. You can't make excuses, and you have to tip your hat to the Red Sox for taking full advantage of the situation. What else would you expect a team this good, that was playing that well at the time, to do?

However, since getting healthy, the Yankees have played the Red Sox eight times. They are 6-2. They have won behind Pettitte three times, Wang twice, and Clemens once. The two losses are behind Mussina. It would have been nice to have that rotation in April.

I'm not saying this means the Yankees are a better team. I'm not saying catching bad breaks, like the injuries the Yankees suffered in April, don't count, because they do. I'm just saying what the Yankees have done vs. the Red Sox head to head since getting healthy, going 6-2, and what they have done overall since getting healthy, going 53-30, does mean something.

Clemens didn't have his split tonight, and didn't have great control. He was very good, and considering those two things he was great. I think he was also being careful, knowing Manny wasn't in the lineup, and making the Red Sox hitters hit his pitch, even if it meant walking a few guys. Big effort overall from Roger.

I want to sit here and say how terrible Josh Beckett was, but I can't, because at the end of the day his final line was decent against a lineup like the Yankees, especially considering how bad he has been against them since the '03 World Series (ERA over 7.00 in 7 starts). But he was as bad as you can possibly be without being terrible. Normally I would tip my hat to a pitcher who minimized the damage on a day when he was getting hit hard, but the Yankees were letting him off the hook, jumping at pitches with runners in scoring position. He had one great sequence to Damon with the bases loaded in the 6th to get out of the jam, but other than that the Yankees made it too easy on him, and should have brought the hammer down multiple times. He worked no 1-2-3 innings, and allowed 14 baserunners in 6.2 innings. Getting only four runs out of that, and stranding runners in scoring postition with two outs in four of the first six innings, is a joke.

Alex Rodriguez got yet another big hit in a season filled with them, and it was primarily huge because...

Kyle Farnsworth can't be trusted in a big spot. He had worked seven scoreless innings before tonight, looking better than ever in a Yankees uniform. Then he blows up. I don't know if I have ever seen Kevin Youkilis hit the ball with any authority the other way, and I also don't know if there are five people in baseball who are better at driving pitches in on the hands than him. So Farnsworth promplty throws him a fastball in on his hands (with Posada set up away, of course), and with as hard as Farnsworth throws all Youkilis would have had to do was drop the bat head on it to drive it out of the park. Instead, he got a great swing on it, and absolutely crushed it. After a two out walk to Varitek, Mo has to come in for a four out save. Thanks Kyle.

Johnny Damon having back to back big nights against his old team. Even in a season where he has struggled, it seems like he always plays big in the big ones.

Another great matchup tomorrow with Wang, who gets hit harder by the Sox than anybody else, vs. Cheeseburger Schilling, who the Yankees absolutely light up. Something tells me the Sox will want to win this one. The Yankees got back into a virtual tie for the Wild Card lead tonight, and need another win tomorrow to keep the pressure on Seattle and hopefully take over the lead. They also might want to make September a little more interesting in the AL East. Just a little. Little bit. That would be great, but they need the win for the Wild Card, and that is most important.

...Without "um"

The way the Red Sox lost tonight reminds me quite a bit of the movie Billy Madison, specifially in terms of my Coco Crisp vendetta. In short, there was a time where things weren't going too well. Coco was hitting .230, like Billy was having trouble spelling "Rizzuto" on the blackboard. Then the night happened in Atlanta where Coco hit the two homers, just like the day Billy peed his pants. Everything turned around, Billy hit a huge momentum shift, and breezed through the rest of elementary school and middle school. The "ABC-123" montage, the lice in the hair, everything. The bad guy (Eric in the movie, Damon in this example) was having a series of bad days. He was poking pencils through the eyes of a Billy picture. He was not too happy that he wasn't going to get the company.

Similarly, mid-June to mid-July were SWEET! Coco Crisp hit .393 with 80% of this season's home runs between June 18 and July 23rd. Meanwhile, in that stretch, Johnny Damon hit .183 with three extra-base hits. Yup, that is over more than a month. His average bottomed out at a miserable .233. Please allow me to refer you to this legendary PF post and remind you that his average still dropped another 16 points in the next three weeks. Things were finally starting to go the way they were supposed to for all parties involved.

Then, high school came around. The momentum clearly slowed a lot for Billy, just as it has for the Fastest Member of Red Sox Nation. He wasn't running out of the classroom and saying he was never going back to school--never, but some things started to go wrong. REO Speedwagon was no longer popular, O'Doyle dumped yogurt on his head, and he didn't understand what Chlorophyll Man was saying. He was still surviving much better, but not as well. Plus, he still weaved some brilliance, with the whole "I will not make out with you" scene.

Coco Crisp's momentum is slowing. He's slumping according to the papers, but even this "slump" is better than the first two and a half months of the season. Hitting .236 since July 24 is not so pleasant, but it's better than .229 during Senior Week. He's slowing down significantly, but he's still weaving a little bit of brilliance--with his glove, plate patience, and uncanny ability to foul off pitches. Still, things aren't as great as they were.

Meanwhile, the villain has some tricks up his sleeve. Eric was starting to find out some stuff about the checkered history of principal Max "The Revolting Blob" Anderson. He was getting back into the game, just as Damon's been on absolute fire since Coco cooled off. He's hit .354 since July 29th, and that's not counting tonight's game.

Tonight's 0-4, 3K performance by Crisp coupled with Damon's high-profile, high-drama homer off of Matsuzaka is equivalent to the moment Max Anderson calling Billy a cheater on television. It's a total stomach punch for me and for all Coco fans. On a macro-scale, things will still be okay. Billy could live the rest of his life in his dad's mansion, just as the Sox still have that 7-game lead. But this stomach punch in this specific area hurts bad. Makes me want to chase invisible penguins and burn dog crap on Old Man Clemens's doorstep.

Some time soon, there's gotta be some kind of enlightening moment in Coco's career where he starts singing the "Back To School" song, does the academic decathlon, and comes out on top of this season-long storyline.

Hopefully Coco can start hitting .400 again, even if it means Dave Magadan or Terry Francona doing the Chris Farley thing. And hopefully Josh Beckett's nasty stuff, like the Business Ethics question, will start another collapse for Johnny Damon.

You can't spell "down in the dumps..."

Going into tonight's game (which I am watching the two-hour replay of), I felt pretty friggin good about the Red Sox, the Red Sox/Yankees thing, baseball in general, and life in general. I mean, tonight's game really doesn't change much. As long as the Red Sox don't get swept, even I am pretty confident that the AL East is virtually over. Four games in six weeks is one thing. Eight games in five weeks is a bit different. Even if NY was playing nobody but Tampa Bay, KC, and the White Sox between now and October, they're just plain running out of real estate.

And that's why the games in April count, everybody.

The fact that Mussina should be designated for assignment even quicker than Kyle Farnsworth circa June is just another indicator that the Yankees have more than their fair share of problems, especially against good-hitting teams. The fact that Mussina's talking trash about the rest of the pitching staff is also a good indicator that it's falling apart in New York. And the fact that they got three-hit by a dazzling Verlander (I heard on the radio that Tigers diehards considered Monday even better than his no-hitter) is another source of Pat headaches.

Honestly, I'm still feeling good (this will change if the Red Sox don't take one out of the next two). The lead is still seven and the Yanks are still running out of real estate. It's now likely that the Red Sox are actually going to win the division. It looks like I was wrong about this the whole time. They may not be the better team now, but over the course of 162, while it took the Yankees so long to get their s*** together, the Red Sox had a better aggregate team. So many thoughts went through my head all day about this.

Not that I don't still think about the collapse that is still possible. Do you know how many pink hats will jump off the bandwagon if the Yankees still do somehow win the East? I was wondering if a collapse would actually make my life better in the long haul because of this very fact. But then I realized my "Sox need to win with Coco in CF" feelings and the rational thought that if the team can win the division, spite the Yankees, and have a good shot at the World Series, how could you not get excited about it?

Then tonight's game happened. It's not the fact that the Sox lost that bothers me. It's not the fact that I just watched Nancy Drew ground weakly to first base. It's not the fact that I'm going to stay up at least until his 4-6-3 double play in the fifth (P.S. Look at his hit chart, especially if you're a Dodger fan, a Yankee fan, or a bulemic Red Sox fan. He has 39 ground outs to the right side...and that's only in home games).

These games are about 15 more "must-win" for the Yankees than they are for the Red Sox. That's why I expected the Yanks to win tonight (well, that and the fact that Pettitte is a great stopper, as Tank said). That's why I'm expecting the Yanks to win each of the next two series.

What bothers me is the way they lost. More on this in a few minutes.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Game 1 Recap

Well played game both sides. Much needed win for the Yankees. No big deal for the Sox, I don't think.

Andy Pettitte wasn't as sharp as he has been recently, but I don't know if there is a pitcher in baseball who makes his pitch when he needs to better than Pettitte. He's not the most talented pitcher in baseball, doesn't have top flight stuff, but he can flat out make pitches in big spots. Had a great change-up tonight, only real mistake was the cutter up to Varitek.

Hadn't seen a full Matsuzaka outing in over two months. He's an interesting pitcher. There are things you like about him and things you really don't. It seems like he's pitching well but you look up and runs are going on the board, and at the end of the day his line is pretty poor. There are two big issues I saw from him tonight, and I don't know if they are typical or unusual, so please let me know. 1) He doesn't put batters away. He threw one great fastball on a full count that exploded up in the zone for a swing and a miss to strike out Cano, but that was about it. The Yankees had no trouble laying off his slider when he was ahead in counts, and routinely leveld off counts where Matsuzaka was ahead. 2) He is not varying his pitches the way he did early in the year. 2-seam fastball, slider, change. That's all I really saw from him tonight. No curves, no splits, both pitches that were effective for him in April/May. I found this odd. One major improvement he has made is that he has gone almost exclusively to the 2-seam fastball, pretty much bagging the strait fastball. He is also locating his fastball much better, especially early in counts.

I was very impressed by Manny Delcarmen. Gil and a few other readers had given scouts on him, and they were right on par. He threw a couple of great changeups, something I hadn't seen from him in recent years.

Derek Jeter has homered 4 times in 132 games. He has hit 4 of them in 13 games against the Red Sox.

Joba Chamberlain. I didn't like the 3-2 slider with a two run lead to Youkilis to leadoff the inning, but as my father said, "That shows you something about his confidence and bodes well for the future." The slider he threw to Nancy to end the inning was disgusting. I'd still like to see him use his fastball more becasue I don't think anyone can touch that either, but at this point, what do I know? Kid is unreal. Do it Joba.

I was all over him, so now I should give Torre credit for giving Mo three days off, even though the games sort of dictated that. See what happens though? His ball is live and the cutter is disappearing again. Beautiful thing.

Tomorrow is a great match-up. I'm sure Boston wishes this game was in Fenway. Boston's best, and one of the best in baseball, vs. Roger Clemens. Two emotional pitchers in what will be another charged atmosphere. Both teams went after it hard tonight, but they will treat tomorrow like the ALCS. Should be fun.

The Road Trip, The Joba Rules, Mike Mussina, and The Red Sox Series

2-5. Not a good road trip. Had the Yankees not played so poorly in April and May, this would have hurt, but wouldn't have been that big of a deal. But this was painful. Three one run losses, two blowout losses from Mussina, and two blowout wins. Had they just won one of those one run games, they would have been okay. Had Mussina given them anything, especially considering they scored nine runs behind him in Anaheim, they could have gotten another win and gone 4-3, which would have been beautiful. They obviously didn't. Stille, the good news is twofold. First, Seattle didn't do much this week either, and the Wild Card remains at a minscule two games with 31 play. Second, the Yankees didn't play poorly on the trip. It's miserable losing one run games, especially in extras like they did twice, but it's not easy to get those types of games off of good teams on the road, especially when your manager is in la la land. Had they played poorly, this would have been worse. But outside of Mike Mussina and a bad offensive effort Sunday, they played well.

The Joba Rules. As many on this site know, I'm a prospect nut. Yankees and otherwise. But particularly the Yankees. So I am all for protecting this kid. I'm all for being extra careful. He is, after all, extra special, and the sky is the limit for his career which he has started by being the most untouchable pitcher in baseball for his first month in the bigs. But they are being extra extra extra extra extra careful, and I think it is a bit excessive. For those who don't know the rules, he gets a day off for every inning pitched. Simple enough. But it makes no sense to me. An inning could mean 30 pressure pitches with runners on out of the stretch. It could also mean 9 pitches, 1-2-3, with two strikeouts, which is what Joba does pretty much every time out. Then he doesn't pitch for eleven days. There has to be some distinction here. Some people would argue he needs to be protected from Torre, and that'swhy there are no distinctions between different types of innings. Not true. My main issue with Torre is his abuse of relievers, but he only does this to middle-aged guys who didn't come up through the Yankees system. Torre babies young prospects, because he views them as his guys, and kids that need to be taught (for examples, see the way he treated Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, and Rivera in their youth). It's one of his biggest strengths as a manager, and what he got out of these guys is a big part of the 96-00 success. Bottom line, Joba can pitch more while still being protected, and the Yankees need him to in order to make the playoffs.

Mike Mussina might be hurt. He might be finished. He might be tired. He might be going through a bad stretch. Whatever. He is definitely ineffective. I don't want to hear about velocity. His breaking balls are flat, he has no feel for either his change or his split, and he is missig location with all of them. There are 31 games left. He is scheduled to get at least six more starts. The Yankees can't afford to forfeit six of the remaining 31 games. Get him out.

Boston is coming to the Bronx tonight. As I said earlier, this series is not about the East. This is about the Yankees needing wins to make the playoffs, no matter who they play. This is about the Red Sox knocking the Yankees out of the playoffs completely. End of story. It may look like a big series for only the Yankees, but I'm telling you right now it isn't. Boston would want no part of the Yankees in the playoffs. Not because the Yankees would definitely win the series, but because they would much rather face anybody else (Seattle, Detroit, you name it). Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain make this team a very different playoff team, and Boston knows this. They want this series just as bad as New York needs it.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Hello Wild Card!

Barring anything absolutely out of this world, the Boston Red Sox have locked up the AL East, at least in my opinion. Some people could argue that it was over a long time ago, some people could argue there really is a chance left with 6 games left head to head. But for this guy, it became 99.9% over today.

Having a tough road trip to Anaheim and Detroit is something any team, even the best of teams, will go through. Had the Red Sox not played well enough, and the Yankees poor enough, to create a 14.5 game hole early on, this wouldn't be as big of a deal. But at the stage the Yankees are at, going 2-5 or even 3-4 really isn't going to cut it for the division. They needed to keep playing out of their mind, which isn't easy on the road against good teams, so it's pretty much so long divison. 3-4 as oppossed to 2-5 is important for the Wild Card, however, so big one tomorrow night.

Phil Hughes gave up four hits today, struck out six, and walked one over six innings. Great line, right? Wrong. Three of the four hits were home runs, one an inside the parker that Matsui misplayed into a homer on the first Tigers batter of the game. Not the start you want with a 21 year old on the hill. The other two homers were just grooved fastballs, and the three long balls accounted for all five runs he gave up.

Hughes has phenomenal stuff. He has all the makings of a tremendous pitcher. But he is the youngest player in baseball, and is still learning at barely 21 years old. He is going to miss spots, hang curveballs, and throw certain pitches in certain counts to hitters he shouldn't be throwing those pitches to, and when they hit it, it's going to go far. It is just unfortunate he has to do this in the pressure of a huge playoff race. He also looks a little tenative to me at times to really drive on the leg he injured and bury fastballs at the knees or curveballs in the dirt. That is just speculation on my part. All in all, I think Hughes will give the Yankees a lot in the Wild Card race the last five weeks, and the playoffs if we get there. And I think he will give them a lot more over the next decade or two. It is just that now he is getting some tough breaks and if he makes a mistake, it really hurts him (ie. giving up four hits, three for home runs).

Terrible offensive effort today, one of the most frustrating in a while. Due to an injury to Detroit's starter, they were in the Tigers bullpen in the second inning. This should have been game over as the Yankees have been a bullpen wrecking crew since the break, but no. They scored in only one of the remaining seven innings, and generally had weak, impatient at bats. Totally unacceptable. The lack of urgency was disgusting. They better plan on bringing a bigger performance tomorrow with Mussina facing Verlander, because whoa baby do they need this win for the Wild Card and general morale coming back from the road trip with Boston waiting for them.

On a positive note, Wang looked awesome last night, like his old self. First vintage performance since the All-Star break. Lots of ground balls, very efficient allowing two runs over eight innings. Good to see, as they need he and Pettitte to be lights out down the stretch. Pettitte has been a no doubter for a month. Wang has that in him, too. With Clemens just as likely to be dominant as he is to be terrible from day to day, the inability to expect anything from Mussina, and a 21 year old who you can't guarantee is going to be good every time out, they need the two of them bad.

It will be interesting to see the way the Yankees and Red Sox attack this series both publicly and privately. Both teams will of course talk about the games being all about the division, even though they both know that in all likelihood, that is not the case. The Yankees need these games just as much for the Wild Card, or maybe more, than they would need them if they were three behind Boston for the division. A series win is a must, even though it isn't Boston they are chasing. On the flip side, Boston undoubtedly knows they are playing more to knock the Yankees out of the playoffs entirely than anything else, which they certainly want to do. This is a situation we haven't seen since sometime in the mid 90's. Weird.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Another Gut Punching Loss

The Yankees went a long time without delivering one of these. You know, one of those can't sleep after, think the season is over, can't get it off your mind, don't want to watch the next days' game, don't want anything to do with any sort of newspaper or highlight clip type losses.

Now they have had three in nine games. Last week at home against Baltimore, this past Monday in Anaheim, and last night/this morning in Detroit. It has been brutal.

Interestingly enough, I have felt that Joe Torre was very much to blame for not putting the team in the best position to win in all three losses, something I rarely do. I disagree with Torre a lot about his management of the bullpen, but that is usually about it. I love Torre, and in general feel comfortable with the moves he makes.

Not recently. Pitching a weary Mo was a big mistake against Baltimore. Not bunting the leadoff runner over in three consecutive innings with no outs was inexcusable.

Last night he did it again. Three strait innings late in the game, leadoff runner on, no outs, no bunts. They ended up getting at least one runner over, but it wasn't because of Torre's call. This is embarrassing baseball management.

As a team, the Yankees lead the majors with a .293 batting average. Oh, so you don't want to take the bat out of anybody's hands, because everyone can hit? True, everyone can hit, 1-9. But when you have a team that hits a lot, you also have a team that puts the ball in play a lot, and therefore have a team the grounds into a lot of double plays, which, for anyone keeping score, is a rally killer. The Yankees are fourth in the majors with 119 double plays grounded into.

Torre apparently is not aware of this, or is choosing to ignore it. Battling teams with good bullpens like Anaheim and Detroit, he refuses to put the bunt on with guys like Cano, a middle infielder who should be able to bunt, and the Yankees are paying for it by grounding into double plays. These double plays are not the players fault, either, as you can't fault them for putting the ball in play. That is what they are suppossed to do. It is the managers job to make sure that not only is the liklihood of the DBP decreased late in game, but most importantly that YOU GET RUNNERS INTO SCORING POSITON FOR A TEAM THAT HAS SO MANY GUYS WHO HIT FOR GREAT AVERAGE SO THAT A SINGLE SCORES THE RUNNER AND PROBABLY WINS THE GAME. My word this is starting to drive me nuts, and it is putting the Yankees in an increasingly tough spot, losing all of these close games as Boston and Seattle keep winning.

Another Torre gripe from last night was his usage of the bullpen. The Yankees bullpen is actually very good at the top now (it feels weird writing that). You have two guys that you would trust against anybody in an spot in Mo and Joba. You have another who is very reliable in Viz, that you trust in almost every spot. Edwar Ramirez has become a more than viable option in middle/late innings and, get this, Kyle Farnsworth has been untouchable lately, and even I don't mind him out there in reasonable situations (you have no idea how much weirder it feels to write that).

So now Joe, who usually picks his two or three favorites to overwork on a nightly basis for multiple innings, wants to get everybody involved every night! Awesome! Or not.

Against other teams that have as good or better bullpens (like Anaheim and Detroit), Torre is using his relievers an inning at a time, acting as if it is going to be easy for the Yankees to just push across a run at any moment and he can just burn through his bullpen. Whether they throw nine pitches or 30, he brings someone new in the next inning, basically wasting a reliever in a tied game. By the 11th inning last night, only Sean Henn and Brian Bruney were out there. Clemens did Torre no favors by only going five, but Torre did himself no favors for using Ramirez, Chamberlain, Farnsworth, Vizcaino, and Rivera for only an inning each innings 6-10. Only Mo was in a lot of trouble, and Vizcaino a little. Ramirez, Chamberlain, and yes, Kyle Farnsworth, worked quick, effortless innings, and yet were pulled after one. Why? Leyland let his top guys, like Rodney, go two innings. So he didn't have Sean Henn out there in the 11th. But Torre did. What a joke.

Speaking of Sean Henn. He has blown two games this week in extra innings. Still, I like having him around, because I think he changes planes well on his fastball/slider combo, making him tough on lefties. He can also give you length, so I don't mind him as the long man.

But can we please get him out of these big late inning spots. It's partly Torre's fault for burning relievers so quickly and unessasrily, but it is also Brian Cashman's fault. What, I'm talking WHAT, did Chris Britton do to somebody in the Yankees organization that he continually gets passed over. He had very good numbers last year in Baltimore, has great numbers at AAA this year, and has given up only one hit, one run, and one walk in five major league innings this year. He is a big boy that throws hard and has late inning stuff, so what is he doing dwindling in the minors while Sean Henn gets to blow two games in one week in late inning situations without late inning stuff? It doesn't add up.

I'm furious right now.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Another Generic Article About Next Week's Series

Okay, next week is gonna be kinda big. The Red Sox/Yankees matchup is possibly going to ruin the summer of one of this blog's co-authors. And because I'm sitting in the Nashua Pride ticket office until 3:00 today, I have to make a few comments on this whole thing.

1. THANK YOU, Theo Epstein, for sending Lester back to Portland for the week. That was probably one of the brightest moves he could have made. Though I just read the Yankees have struggled mightily against left-handed starters, this poor kid is just not ready. I cringe just thinking about how many walks Lester would have against the patient Yankee lineup. It would be like Beckett last year, all over again.

2. The NY media is also thanking Theo Epstein...for trading for Eric Gagne. Whatever. As long as he's not 1) facing A-Rod, 2) facing Jeter, or 3) in a situation where the lead is less than five either way, I'm fine with him pitching against the Yankees. Any blowout situation against Chicago or NY would be a great opportunity for Francona to "restore his confidence." It'd be nice to see a 1-2-3 inning this month. Just make sure you're not testing him in a meaningful situation. Please.

3. What happens if Joba Chamberlain gives up his first run against the Red Sox? What if he implodes? Sure, the guy's great, but there's more wood for him in New York than there's wood in the rainforest. (P.S. Bronx, I'm looking forward to your comment about Boston's wood for Papelbon.) But if he gets lit up, what does it mean for him? What does it mean for New York fans? What does it mean about the collective Yankee confidence regarding winning the division? I'm rooting for this, not just because I'm a Red Sox fan, but also out of anthropological curiosity.

4. Tavarez hit 2004 hero Orlando Cabrera in Anaheim last week, sparking a bench-clearing heated discussion. I nominate him to be the first guy to throw behind 2004 hero Johnny Damon. Obviously, that guy had something to say about Gagne (see aforementioned Joel Sherman article). I'll let you know if my hatred crosses the border into the "irrational" category. It won't happen until Damon stops popping off to the media about Boston.

5. Bummer. Mussina's not pitching against Boston. I'd love to hear a good scouting report on this guy from either Pat, Tank, or Bronx. What's this guy's problem? He's been just as bad as Gagne lately.

Should be a fun series. Sox are gonna see Pettitte, Clemens, and Wang. No idea who they're gonna throw themselves, with this weather/doubleheader nonsense happening in Chicago, but it's crucial that they don't get swept.

They say that a hero can save us...

I'm not gonna stand here and wait...for him to come back.

I've been pretty critical of Curt Schilling since I started writing for How Youz Doin Baseball. I'm not one of the legions of Schilling haters (led by Shaughnessy and my boy John D), but I'm not exactly one of the butt-kissing commenters on 38pitches.com. I was very skeptical about how he was going to perform this year and, honestly, he's proven me wrong. Despite the injury, Schilling has pitched quite well for the Red Sox--better than expected. I will not complain once about what he's done on the field this year.

That's where it ends. Almost everything the guy has done off the field has been beyond stupid. And the other day's comments on the radio and on his blog (though one of his most well-spoken posts of the season) are no exception. I find it to be a very bogus move to discuss contracts openly to the media during the season, because nothing positive comes from it. A true professional would talk about...well...doing his job, getting back to 100%, and trying to win the World Series.

It would be like my boy telling his girlfriend that he's considering dating this specific other girl by the time second semester starts. Sure, maybe he'll think about it, but he'd be an absolute dirtbag to actually say it.

Schilling has stated that he wants to stay in Boston. Twice he's thrown out the claim that he'd accept a $13 million contract on the spot. Now he's putting some more pressure on the Red Sox by threatening to leave. It's like he's turning up the heat in the negotiating room...while everyone in the world is watching. Sure, he can do it. As they say, it's a free country and he can say whatever he wants to say. But by saying that, he has the freedom to be called an unprofessional idiot.

Eric Wilbur writes very well about this topic, wading his way quite well through the b.s. He claims that Schilling wants to basically be a player-coach and assume the role of the hero of that franchise. Tampa Bay needs an attraction, and he and his loud mouth would certainly make headlines. They have a lot of talented young pitchers, and he can teach them a thing or two. He would love to take credit for the immense improvement of the franchise, if they end up signing him. He wants to be the hero that will save the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Not that I'd blame Schilling for going. It is a fit that would make sense. It's looking more and more like Boston doesn't have the room for a guy who will be another year older, a constant injury threat, and still a high price tag. As Wilbur pointed out, they "only do that with overrated outfielders."

He's been great on the field for this team since he got here. And he'd be great as an ace, an attraction, and a mentor for Tampa Bay next year.

It doesn't mean he should be talking about it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Joe Torre, Sometimes I Wonder About You

Just got back from a great vacation, and am heading out quickly for the night, but I need to get this off my chest.

8/20/2007 was one of the most inexcusable managerial inflicted losses of all time, and you can thank Joe Torre. 4-3 lead Top 5 against a team that owns you in Game 1 of the most viscious roadtrip of the year. Runner on first no outs. Melky up. No bunt. Double play.

Top 6 same situation. Runner on first no outs. Damon up. No bunt. Double play.

Top 7 same situation. Runners on first and second no outs. Cano up. No bunt. Double play.

Great managing, Joe. Really, because you aren't playing a great team on the road, and you don't need this game. Just play for the big inning all the time. It's so incredibly arrogant I have to stop here.

7-6 loss in extra innings with Excuses Mussina going the next night. I didn't sleep that night. Thank goodness for Andy Pettitte, because if it wasn't for him coming up absolutely huge, the Yankees season might have rested on Monday's loss, and it would have been Torre's fault.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

38 Bitches (Volume 10)

Pat is pretty right; I am quite busy. The Pride are in the middle of a ten-game homestand, and interns are dropping like flies as many are heading back to college. That means more work for me and the other graduates. Meanwhile, our closer (Rich Garces) is one of the 25 Red Sox Nation finalists (I was not--gosh dang it), Barack Obama showed up at the ballpark tonight, and my bosses are picking fights with journalists. So a few posts will have to be consolidated to a few paragraphs.

1. I think I said it best about a week ago over pizza with some of my co-workers. One of my boys had a brain tumor. He's fine now, totally recovered, all of that stuff. But does that mean next time we play softball or Wiffle ball and he's pitching, I should strike out on purpose? Wrong. Don't get me wrong: I like the Jon Lester story, but it's time to stop walking guys. It's time to stop giving up home runs. It's time to pitch. The free pass is over; pennant races don't have sympathy for anyone.

2. My best text message of the past week has to be the one where I addressed JD Drew's ability to hit to the opposite field: He hit a weak ground ball to shortstop for a double play instead of a weak ground ball to second base. Meanwhile, seeing that Lugo is hitting, I will not rag on him tonight.

3. Dan Shaughnessy plugged his own article on Globe 10.0 about the glass half-full and the glass-half-empty. How Youz Damon Baseball (http://www.bostondirtdogs.com/) was a fan of that one. You know where I stand. I stated very early that the 14.5-game lead was not enough. But with the Yankees blowing one last night and Mussina absolutely sucking...again...tonight, the Red Sox have to take advantage of these games. Pat already said it better.

4. Eric (Gagne) is a bad, bad man. This is well-established. Listening to the radio and reading the papers and stuff, I don't think anyone has really come up with a cause of this. They have said that since July 15, he's been the "worst pitcher in baseball" on WEEI. But perhaps it's because he hasn't had this kind of workload (as far as innings go) for several years? Think about it: He pitched fifteen and a third inning in the last two years. I bet that's the least amount of hard throwing this former starter has done since he was about five years old. Guy's tired. Theo probably should have seen it coming...then again, we all should have seen it coming, and we didn't. We just gotta hope that someone (like Manny Delcarmen) can play the role of Billy Madison and ensure that Eric (who is a douchebag) will not have control of the company in any meaningful role.

5. Despite his superhuman defense, my boy Coco is cold, hitting about .230 with 2 RBI in the last two weeks or so. Notice how present-day "cold Coco" is the same as beginning-of-the-season "regular Coco." Heartwarming article by unabashed Yankee apologist Tom Singer. That's what I'm talking about.

6. More "Globe 10.0" stuff. Ryan and Shaughnessy are apparently both believers in the Drew/Matsuzaka conspiracy thing. Both players are Scott Boras clients, and he made the Red Sox sign Drew, for whom there was not much of a market, to a long-term, asinine deal. If they don't make the deal, they don't get Matsuzaka. Both Pat and I said the Red Sox got a bargain for Matsuzaka with six years and $52 million. If this conspiracy has any kind of truth to it (and I don't doubt it...nobody's actually stupid enough to sign Drew AND Lugo to huge long-term deals on the same day on his own), it's Boston who got fleeced.

I'm blogging with a huge stomach ache tonight--I want to throw up but I haven't been able to do so yet. But now that I'm writing about Nancy being in a Red Sox uniform until September 2011, the vomit might flow a little better.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Recaps, Predictions, and More Things Yankees/Red Sox

Interesting week for both teams, as the degree of separation between first and second in the AL East remains at four, the same as it was at this time last week. I'm sure the Yankees would have liked to pick up ground in a week when the Sox had the Angels. The Orioles had different plans. I'm also sure the Red Sox would have liked to expand upon their lead in a week when the Yankees lost three in a row. Eric Gagne had different plans.

That the lead remains at four makes this week critical. The Yankees have a brutal road trip to Anaheim and Detroit for seven games, with an off day Thursday. The Red Sox also have a seven game road trip, to Tampa Bay and Chicago for seven games, with an off day on Monday, right before the Yankees series. Ummmmm, advantage Boston.

Still, the AL East could be won or lost this week. If Boston loses a game (or more) in the next eight days, they risk coming to New York with the chance of their lead totally evaporating by the time they leave. If New York loses a game (or more), Boston comes in up at least five games, with a chance of basically putting the East out of contention with a series win. A six game lead at the end of August would be pretty comfortable. A one, two, or three game lead (if they have a lead at all) would be not so comfortable. That is what is being played for this week, before the potentially massive series in New York. I'm excited.

Some other thoughts, as always, DV style:

1. Eric Gagne. 7 innings. 16 hits. 10 earned runs. 11 strikeouts. 3 walks. 164 pitches. 2 blown saves. 1 loss. ERA: 12.86.

2. Joba Chamberlain. 7 innings. 2 hits. 0 earned runs. 11 strikeouts. 2 walks. 87 pitches. ERA: 0.00.

3. Can you imagine if the Yankees had gotten Gagne? And if in turn they had never promoted Joba Time? The East would probably be over. Now, it could be the difference the other way, in the Yankees favor.

4. The Yankees are 9-1 against Detroit and Cleveland this year. We know about their exploits against poor teams, especially since the All-Star Break. But it can't be said that they are where they are simply because of this. They are doing it against good teams just as much, if not more.

5. I have to admit at being slightly suprised the Red Sox have continued to be so average for so long. It is now over 10 weeks of just above .500 baseball for this team, and their season winning percentage has slipped under .600 for the first time since probably week one of the season. I knew they weren't as good as they played early, but they are also better than .500 over 10 weeks. At least I thought so. Too much pitching. The team ERA is still the second best in baseball. More than enough offense. Fourth in the majors in runs scored. Tough for me to pinpoint what the issue is here, other than they aren't going on winning streaks, or even winning with any sort of consistency. I blame Eric Gagne. But you have to wonder if it's scheduling. Outside of the Yankees for six games, the toughest team the Red Sox see the rest of the way is Toronto. That could be a "stretch" of their own, where they get hot.

6. This could be the best and biggest playoff race the AL has seen in a while. No current division leader will cruise to October, as all three have a team on their tail. All four playoff spots are pretty much up for grabs, with six good basebal teams fighting for them. The fact that not one of them is even close to being locked up is relatively unusual at this point in the season. The amount of teams involved and that the race is spread across all three divisions is what makes this one a good one.

That's it for now. I'm going away until Thursday with no computer access. When I get back, it's LSAT lockdown for 5 1/2 weeks, which is actually decent for baseball and blogging, because I am going to allow those to be my only distractions. I get the impression DV is really, really busy, because I know he would have had something to say about Gagne if he wasn't. Hopefully he'll get some time off this week to put some stuff up while I'm away, and then we can both get after it for what should be a huge series at the Stadium next week.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Now People In the Metropolitan Area Actually Do Need A Helmet

Because I'm going to be throwing things. And they can thank Joe Torre.

For the record, and I should have written this in the comments under DVs last post, I wasn't upset about Tuesday's 12-0 loss. If they had lost 1-0, I would have freaked, because letting Daniel Cabrera off the hook like they did would have been frustrating. But when Jeff "Fly Ball Machine" Karstens gave up a Grand Slam to make it 5-0 in the 3rd, I would have mailed it in if I was the Yankees offense too. They have been so incredible for so long, including coming back from a number of early deficits, they are allowed to take a night off when a spot starter puts them in a hole. Plus, last week they got smacked in Toronto, and it was their only loss of the week, so it's tough for me to complain. If anything, I was ticked Torre inexplicably (INEXPLICABLY) used Luis Vizcaino in the 9th inning of a 12-0 game. But really, I didn't even yell once, which I'm normally doing when they are up 6-1 to the point you would think they are losing.

Today was a different story. NoMaas hasn't put it up yet, but I'm hoping they will add 8/15 to their list of Torre losses, because there is no doubt this one is on him.

When the Yankees were getting shut down, 3-0, by a great pitcher in Bedard for seven innings, I was frustrated by a terribly umpired game, especially balls and strikes (second worst I've seen this year), and Phil Hughes not covering the bag fast enough, turning what would have been a very good outing into a pedestrian one (it lead to 2 of the 3 runs he allowed, 1 unearned). Other than that, I was fine. I figured Baltimore has our number this year, which happens. The Yankees are 6-0 against the Tribe and have had a few other teams' number. You can't have a winning record against everyone. Most importantly, I was elated that the back end of the bullpen, particularly Mariano, who really needs, would be rested for the Detroit series.

Then Shelley Duncan hit a two-out, three-run homer to tie the game. GREAT! I figured Chamberlain for one or two innings, and there was no way the Yankees don't push a run across. No save situation, so let Mo get the rest he needs, Yankees still win. Even if they don't, Mo STILL gets the rest he needs, this is just one game. Mo's energy and effectiveness are far more important for the next 7 weeks, and hopefully beyond, than this one game.

Joe Torre had different ideas.

He doesn't understand that on the pace he has had Mo on recently, he'd appear in 108 games over the course of a season. He doesn't understand that he uses Mo in 6-1 games (last Friday), for multiple innings saves (Sunday), for one inning saves (Monday), and now in tied extra innings games (today), AND THAT YOU CAN'T DO THAT. Plus, Rivera is going through his annual August slump. It happens almsot every year (most likely a dead arm period, though he'd never admit it) and if anyone is allowed it, it's him.

Torre's remedy? Instead of resting him, since being the rock of the bullpen since May 1 in every pressure situation is probably wearing on him physically and mentally, Torre pitches him all the time, in any situation. Mo had nothing Sunday, and little Monday, missing spots, which is when you know he isn't right. But Torre just keeps on pitching him.

If Mo is rested and right, I have no problem bringing him in today to preserve a tie in the 10th, figuring the Yankees had the momentum to end the game in the bototom half. It would be the right baseball move. But Mo isn't rested, and Mo isn't right. And I'm not talking bad about Mo (I would never say a bad word about him), I'm supporting him. This isn't his fault. He has been asked to be Superman in the bullpen, and he has been, with only one blown save since the second week of the season (on Monday). He has probably been the best reliever in baseball since May 1, as his numbers are out of control.

But he is human. He needs rest. He can't pitch in every critical (and non-critical) situation all the time and expect to always produce results. Especially when he is having an understandable tough patch in a season that is long. And it's not like Torre doesn't have other options. There is this guy, uh, Joba Chamberlain, who has been pretty good. And Viz was back there too. Both reliable, and both more rested than Mo right now.

But no, Torre had to go with Mo, and Mo got shelled, BECAUSE HE JUST DOESN'T HAVE IT RIGHT NOW. Torre, realize that this happens to everyone, even Mo. Stop living in lala land, you have to MANAGE WHEN THIS STUFF HAPPENS TO YOUR PLAYERS, and find NEW WAYS OF DOING THINGS.

Then, after the game (I don't know why I put myself through the torture of watching Torre's postgame, but I did) Torre hid behind the fact that in the traditional baseball rulebook, you put your closer in there, and Mo is the best closer of all-time, so it's a no brainer. But that isn't managing. Managing would be noticing, and it isn't hard to see, that your closer isn't rested, and he's struggling to find it at the moment. DID I MENTION HE IS PROBABLY ABSOLUTELY EXHAUSTED FROM PITCHING SO MUCH?! So manage, protect your player, and go in a different direction for ONE GAME.

Then Torre tells us that he would much rather lose this way than 3-0. Really? You'd much rather have your team suffer the first emotional, gut-punching defeat it has had in a long time, and use your closer in yet another game right before Detroit comes in for four and you go to Anaheim for three, with no off day, than lose 3-0, rest your bullpen, and chalk it up to facing a great pitcher? Because I would rather lose 3-0. If Rivera had gone 1-2-3 and we had won, I would still be as livid as I am now, because he is being overused and this was not a spot that he should have been pitching in unrested.

Not only did he not got 1-2-3, but we lost, and now that is just another inning logged on Rivera's arm that can't be gotten back, and this team needs every inning that arm has the rest of the season. And Joe, the innings will be as effective as any reliever in the history of baseball, if you just give him A LITTLE rest. Which you probably won't.

I'm going tomorrow and Saturday. Big series. People better wear their helmets.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dear NJ, Wear A Helmet

I know this post is going to be buried in the next few minutes. I haven't heard from the guy, but I know Pat's probably somewhere in Jersey breaking or throwing things. I know this because the box score of the Yankees' 12-0 loss is even uglier than the actual score. I'm thinking watching it on the YES Network might somehow be even uglier than the box score.

Examples: Orioles starter Daniel Cabrera (who lowered his ERA to an uninspiring 4.93) went 6 2/3 innings, which means he retired 20 batters. He faced 29. None of them scored.

He only threw 60 strikes along with 51 balls. He walked six (SIX!) Yankees. None of them scored, and neither did the three that the bullpen walked. This indicates less timely hitting than the Red Sox since June 1st. They got two-hit by Daniel Cabrera, Paul Shuey, and Rob Bell. Woof. Once they start breathing down the Red Sox' necks to the point that they're feeling it, they lose one this way.

Nevermind the fact that Karstens got lit up. Nevermind the fact that Jim Brower's ERA is 13 and a half and that Chris Britton and Edwar Ramirez are still in AAA (NoMaas has an explanation for this: Ramirez dated Torre's wife). I bet my co-author is going to indict players one-by-one in his next post, as if they were Michael Vick's friends.

MEANWHILE, the Red Sox won a pretty nice one tonight. And by "pretty nice" I mean on my way home from Nashua, while listening to the game on WRKO, I was starting to write the "This Team Doesn't Deserve To Make The Playoffs" post. I will rescind this post until further notice, mostly because 1) Mike Lowell is the only clutch guy on this team anymore and 2) Coco Crisp's walkoff hit made me more jubilated than I have been over a Sox game since October 27, 2004.

Instead of writing about how Drew's starting to hit to the opposite field (6-4-3 double plays instead of weak ground balls to the right side), I'm reiterating stuff like this heartfelt statement from July 31:

"I want the Red Sox to win a World Series. This year. With Coco Crisp in center field. And yes, the main motivation here is spite."

Instead of talking about how Lugo's "tear" since the All-Star Break has only been a .333 clip (lower than Hanley Ramirez's entire season), I'm talking about how crucial it is to sign Mike Lowell to another two-year extension and I'm apologizing again for how wrong I was for ripping this guy as hard as I did in the 2005-6 offseason.

I bet How Youz Damon Baseball (AKA Boston Dirt Dogs) was planning on writing "Johnny Damon Never Got The Flu" tonight, but is instead furiously researching the number of walkoff hits Damon's had since Little League.

Bad night for the Yanks, good night for the Sox, great night for Coco, awesome night for me.

August 12 and Preseason Football

On Friday night, August 10, 2007, the Red Sox played their regularly scheduled game in Baltimore against the Orioles. This game meant something in the grand scheme of things, whether it's playoff implications or whatever. It featured what may go down as one of the more crucial moments of the Red Sox' 2007 season, but we've already gone over that.

Yet, for some reason, half of New England was not watching this regular-season game that mattered more than practice means to Allen Iverson. Instead they were watching a preseason scrimmage game between the Patriots and the Buccaneers. A game that has absolutely no implications to anything (Tampa Bay was the odds-on favorite, if it's any indication to how seriously these teams take this game). A game that features starters for maybe the first quarter and a half, and then later puts in the guys to see whether they will sit on the bench all season, play on the practice squad, or resume their jobs in construction, law, or paving Rt. 129 in Wilmington.

It doesn't make a hint of sense to me why anyone wouldn't be watching the regular season game at this point. People might say, "oh, it's the first football game of the year." Please. It's barely even football. It has less hitting than a girls' lacrosse game. People might say "but there are so many baseball games, and only 20 football games." That's not true. You can watch college football (2-4 games per weekend), pro football (at least 4 games per weekend), and high school football. To be honest, if I wanted to watch Patriots fifth-stringers go against Bucs fifth-stringers, I'd go to Wilmington High School vs. Pentucket High School. At least that game means something.

On August 12, 2007, the Red Sox played their regularly-scheduled game in Baltimore against the Orioles. And how soon do these fans forget that these games shouldn't be taken for granted.

Because on August 12, 1994, there was a Sox/O's game scheduled, but it was never played. The rest of the season was never played, including the playoffs and World Series. It killed one franchise (Montreal, who was in first place) and almost killed the sport. And the fact that watching these games--which are never guarantees--sometimes takes a back seat to preseason football games is mind-boggling.

I mean, they don't even televise most Red Sox spring training games, and when they do, I barely even watch them. Because I don't care about Mickey Scales and Jeff Bailey's quest to find a job. It doesn't have much weight on what happens in October.

Watching the Pats over the Sox on September afternoons? Sure, that makes sense. But watching a guy named Bumgartner try to make it onto the practice squad is no reason to flip away from Friday's game even for a second.

Monday, August 13, 2007

What are you saving Papelbon 4?

...and I say "4" instead of "for" because the lead is down to 4.

I spent most of my afternoon Sunday dying during a run through Bandi's hometown, but I did return home soon enough to see the Red Sox' implosion against the fourth-place, 54-62 Baltimore Orioles. Obviously, it was a frustrating loss and, along with Friday's, will be one of the losses people will remember most when Boston is finally caught by the Yankees in the coming weeks.

Eric Gagne is pretty much terrible. To an extent, I give Terry Francona credit for trying to put him into another pressure situation to restore his confidence after coughing up the game on Friday night. But right now is not the right time. There are three big reasons for this not being the right time:

1. Gagne simply does not have it right now. As Nick Cafardo of the Globe pointed out Sunday, Gagne was starting to have problems before being traded to Boston. A well-known stat was the fact that he had only given up eight runs so far all season.

Five of them were in July, in his last eight outings. So this slide might not be a "new town" kind of thing. Whether it's a "Gagne pitched 15 1/3 innings in the last two years" thing or not is yet to be seen. But that was my hesitation about the Red Sox signing him to big bucks over the offseason.

2. Papelbon is so intense on the mound. He has been used sparingly all season so far, and with good reason. You want him to be able to come to the rescue during crunch time. But guess what? Crunch time is now. The lead was down to 5 going into Sunday.

3. This is a reiteration. Crunch time is now. Especially with a two-run lead in the rubber game of a series against a bad team...and with one of the more feared power hitters of the last decade at the plate. I don't care about confidence or long-term goals in this kind of situation. I'm concerned with a) not tying the game and b) not giving up a home run. Of course, neither of those things happened.

Inexplicably, even when extra innings came around, it was Kyle Snyder who got the ball, not Papelbon. Sunday's game was a must-win game. When Snyder started to get lit up, Francona still elected to stick with his guy instead of bringing in the strikeout pitcher. In a second-and-third, one out situation, where a ground ball would result in a loss and a fly ball would result in a loss, they still didn't go with the strikeout pitcher.

NoMaas would credit this loss to Francona. The lead's down to four. Francona likes to say that it's not a sprint, it's a marathon. But this is the end of a close marathon. It's time to pick up the pace and drop the competition.

If It Ain't Broke (Okajima), Don't Fix It (Gagne)

This is probably rule #1 in sports. When things are working, don't mess with it. Yet this is exactly what Boston has done in their bullpen.

Okajima and Papelbon were arguably the best 1-2 punch in the 8th and 9th in baseball over the first four months. Both had sub 2 ERA's. Both had sub 1 WHIP's. Both were extremely effective, and importantly, extremely comfortable in their role.

Then Boston went out and got Gagne at the trade deadline. You can't fault them for doing this, obviously. Adding another arm of his caliber in a year you think you have a good shot to win it all is good business.

What you can fault them (Theo, Tito, whoever) for, however, is messing with Okajima's role right away. Okajima had the 8th to himself all year. Yes, sometimes he came in to get outs in the 7th. Yes, sometimes Papelbon came in to get outs in the 8th. But Okajima knew his role, knew he was going to face every batter in those situations, no matter which side of the plate they were standing on. And why not? He had been effective against both righties and lefties all year (which still amazes me, but that's not the point).

This changed when they got Gagne, and it chagned right away. Instead of gradually integrating Gagne into the late innings, they immediately started mixing and matching with he and Okajima. Look how that went when Gagne faced Tejada. There is no way of knowing for sure, but I'd say it's good money that Okajima gets Tejada out there, or at least doesn't give up a home run. And I'm not exactly going out on a limb there, Okajima had getting big outs against tough hitters, righty and lefty, in those spots all year.

The biggest problem with this situation, however, is not the immediate result of yesterday's loss or that the Yankees are only four games back. The issue is that the Red Sox have tried to fix something that wasn't broken, and now it may actually be broken. Psyche, especially in the bullpen, is incredibly important. How do you think either Okajima's or Gagne's psyche is right now? Okajima probably has no idea why his role was changed when he was pitching so well, and that will be on his mind, especially with Gagne blowing up. Gagne is dealing with imploding multiple times in his first two weeks in one of the biggest pressure cookers in baseball, pitching as if he was traded to the Yankees and is trying to help them. All of this in a pennant race. Yikes.

Joe Torre made this mistake last year, inserting Gary Sheffield for Melky Cabrera, and to a lesser extent, Hideki Matsui for Bernie Williams. The Yankees were rolling before these moves, and then paid for making them in the playoffs against Detroit. I was worried Torre would do the same thing with Giambi coming back again this year, but he hasn't. He has worked Giambi in gradually, giving him a few starts and AB's when he can or when it makes sense, and the Yankees have reaped the benefits, getting two homers (one of which was huge) from Giambi against Cleveland. Now he is in the mix, without interrupting any chemistry, mojo, or flow, and can now go on himself to be a big part of this cohesion as he is more than capable of being a monster contributor.

The best example I can remember of a coach not fixing something that wasn't broken was Coach K with Duke's National Championship team in 2001. Carlos Boozer, one of the best players in the country at the time, went down late in the season. In his absence, Duke went 9-0, including winning the ACC Tourney. When he came back for the NCAA Tournament, Casey Sanders, despite being an inferior player, continued to start over Boozer, because that is what had been working. Boozer got the most minutes, but Sanders continued to start, because they were winning, and that is what is most important. They went on to win the National Championship. I'll always remember being impressed by that, and I'm not a Duke fan. Joe Torre last year, and Tito Francona in the last few weeks, should have been paying closer attention to this.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The AL East is on the Table

"I'm not thinking about the Wild Card. We play to win the division." -Derek Jeter

May 29, 2007
Boston: 36-15
New York: 21-29
14.5 GB

June 24, 2007
Boston: 48-26
New York: 36-37
11.5 GB

July 14, 2007
Boston: 55-35
New York: 45-44
9.5 GB

August 2, 2007
Boston: 66-42
New York: 58-50
8.0 GB

Today
Boston: 70-47
New York: 66-51
4.0 GB

You can't discount how good Boston was for the first two months, because that is part of their season. Same goes for how bad the Yankees were. However, the Red Sox are two games over .500 in their last 66 games (34-32). Over that same period the Yankees are 23 games over .500 (45-22), and have made up 10.5 games on the Sox. That translates to about a game a week. There are seven weeks left in the season, only four to make up. This is officially a full on pennant race.

How good are the Yankees right now? Sweeping the AL Central leading Indians at their place with Posada, probably the Yankees' most consistent bat to date, sitting out all three games good. It's not easy sweeping anyone on the road, let alone a first place team, let alone without a key player.

The Yankees bats have gotten a lot of attention during the last month, and rightfully so, the lineup has been a 1-9 monster. But the pitching should not be overlooked. This sweep was huge, and Yankees starters gave up 1, 2, and 2 runs in the three game set. The bullpen gave up one run. Mike Mussina is back in a big way (4-0, 2.84 last 4 starts), and Pettitte has regained his form of April and May. Clemens had perhaps his most dominant start last week. Right now, Wang might be the guy you feel least comfortable with, and you have very little reason to actually feel uncomfortable with him. That is saying something.

Phil Hughes? A pitcher in every sense of the word. Power, control, change of speed, movemen, you name it. He was disgusting on Friday night. Disgusting. Joba Chamberlain? Some Indians commented after Friday's game that he had the nastiest stuff they had seen all year. He has the stuff and makeup to be a late inning reliever/closer, and you can see shades of Mariano Rivera in '96 written all over this kid. The Yankees are good without these two. With them, the sky is the limit, because they are difference makers. Big ones.

Speaking of Joba Chamberlain. Since joining the Yankees: 4 IP, 1 hit, 2 walks, 0 earned runs, 6 strikeouts. ERA: 0.00

Eric Gagne since joining the Red Sox: 4 IP, 10 hits, 2 walks, 7 earned runs, 5 strikeouts. ERA: 15.75, which was actually lowered from 16.20 today when he gave up a run while recording 2 outs. Nice!

Same innings pitched, drastically different results. This could all change at any time, but let's put it this way...however little I cared the Yankees didn't get Gagne two weeks ago, I definitely don't care now. And that isn't just because Gagne has been so brutal, giving up at least one run in four of his first five appearances. It is because Joba is the thing, the real deal.

All said, the Yankees are still four games back getting towards the middle part of August, which is somewhat substantial. Both teams have played great for a prolonged stretch (with the Yankees a little bit better in their hot period), and both teams have played poorly for an extended stretch (with the Red Sox much better in their cold period). Anything can happen in the last seven weeks of the season, going either way. The most important thing is that the Yankees have climbed all the way back in, and this is now a very serious race, with a lot of meaningful games to be played. Primarily, of course, are the six against each other. Couldn't be more excited. I love this game.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Sometimes League Decision Making Makes No Sense

DV has a great post below, and I don't want to bury it, so this will be as brief as I can be, which still probably won't be that brief.

Professional sports' enforcement of their rules often makes zero sense. Two examples.

1) The Spurs were all over Steve Nash in last season's NBA Playoffs. They cheap shotted him at every opportunity. Not always illegal, but always intentional and cheap. Knees, elbows, after the play, away from the ball, you name it. The final straw came when Robert Horry hip checked Nash into the scoreboard late in a game. All the Suns do this entire time is have two starters, who were on the bench, take two steps on to the floor in a knee-jerk reaction to their guy getting abused. Final result? The Spurs, who an idiot could see instigated the whole thing, have their 8th man suspended in Horry, while the Suns, who did nothing wrong besides break a stupid technical rule out of instincts, have two starters supsended in Stoudamire and Diaw. That makes sense.

2) A Yankee makes a needless and dumb play in May. The Blue Jays were upset. They threw at him once, very much intentionally, in August. Fine, it's even. Then they threw at him again, very much intentionally, the next night. It's now 2-1 Blue Jays overall, and 2-0 Blue Jays in terms of throwing at people. A Yankee pitcher retaliates in the 7th, very much intentionally, to get even overall, and to get on the board in terms of throwing at people. Final result? Clemens is suspended 5 games and Torre one. The Blue Jays, who threw at more people than the Yankees, and really started the second round of issues, have nothing.

Clemens will appeal and the Yankees will drop the appeal around an off day so he doesn't miss a start. It isn't that big of a deal, it's just the principle of how stupid these rules are, and how poor it looks when they are enforced. In both cases, the instigator got no suspensions, and in the Suns case, which is obviously worse, it probably cost them the series. Either the leagues need to start looking at the rules with a little bit of a human element to them, or the rules themselves need to change, because when the rules are followed the way they are written, the outcome ends up being nonsensical, as the instigators walk away scot free, and the retaliators sit out suspensions.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Bad Teams' Worst Nightmare

As promised to Pat, this is my post addressing why the Yankees are tailor-made to beat the absolute pulp out of bad teams, such as the ones they played during the infamous post-All-Star "stretch" where they shrunk their deficit in the AL East from 9.5 to as little as five before last night's games. During this stretch, the Red Sox actually didn't even play that poorly, going 16-11 (.592, compared to their overall .605 winning percentage) so far since the All-Star Break.

I'm sorry to let my co-author down a little bit, but it's not rocket science to see that the Yankees' potent offense is going to beat down bad teams. As a whole, bad teams are teams that have poor pitchers. Oakland is the only team I can think of that is overall a "bad" team but has good pitchers. And look what the Yankees did against them during their series at the end of June: Lost two out of three, scoring seven runs over a three-game series.

For the record, good teams can have bad pitching, with the Yankees being a prime example. I would have said (and I did say) that the Mets and Indians are also examples, but I didn't predict the emergence of guys like John Maine and Fausto Carmona. A team can make the playoffs, but will likely fail in the playoffs, if they have good hitting and bad pitching. An example would be the 2005 Red Sox (I mean...post-comeback Schilling was a great pitcher, and so was Matt Clement!)

You have all seen teams like the Yankees for years tear teams apart in the regular season, often putting up double-digits in the run column at least once a week. Teams like the Yankees, in theory, will win a whole lot of 13-8 or 9-8 games. Since the All-Star Break, this has absolutely been the case. Their offense in the past two years is something that none of us has ever seen before in the history of baseball, and I don't even consider this a hyperbole--unless you count Johnny Damon as a hole in the lineup, which we both obviously do.

However, when the playoffs come around, there was only one time you saw the Yankees score 19 runs in a game. Most playoff games have scores that resemble soccer scores than football scores, especially later on in the playoffs. This is because of the fundamental baseball principle that "good pitching beats good hitting." Good pitchers will cut down teams like the Yankees, no matter how many wins they rack up against teams like KC, Tampa (minus Kazmir), or Toronto (minus Halladay). It's a time-tested and proven principle, and it's a huge reason the 2001-2006 Yankees teams have failed so miserably in the playoffs. And to answer Bronx from a few weeks ago, this is why I don't think the Yankees will succeed in October--again.

Obviously, good pitching beats bad hitting too. And even okay hitting (which is the way you can classify the 2007 Boston lineup) will beat bad pitching.

We will take these principles a step further to illustrate how I think the Yankees will STILL win the AL East this season. Good pitching beats good hitting, but good hitting annihilates bad pitching. Look at this Yankees team. They work the count. They will not allow pitchers to make mistakes. They are very disciplined hitters and very good hitters. They're not afraid to take walks and they are just waiting for pitchers to leave a fat one out in the middle of the strike zone. Sure, bad hitters can do this, too, but good hitters like the Yankees' order do it all the time. How many times have you seen a wild pitcher face Jeter to lead off an inning, walk Jeter, then proceed to throw another 30-40 pitches and give up 3-4 runs? It's what good hitters do to bad pitchers, and it's the reason New York can drop 2-3 touchdowns on teams on a somewhat regular basis. Remember the game where they came back from an 11-run deficit a year or two ago? That's why.

Bad pitching and bad hitting are a toss-up. This is the reason why Tampa Bay wins some games not pitched by Kazmir. This is why sometimes the Red Sox can drop a touchdown on Robinson Tejeda (when he walks guys) and why sometimes he shuts them out (when he doesn't walk guys--though it doesn't help when they swing at the first pitch every time).

But the last 29 games during the "stretch" for the Yankees are undeniable proof of the second principle shown in bold letters. It's not fair to say that the Red Sox are a "bad hitting" team, but their lineup simply does not have the fire power that the Yankees have. They do not have the ability to make pitchers pay for every single mistake. Sure, they'll win more often than not against these bad teams (probably 3 out of 5) because sometimes they'll make the bad pitchers pay. Having a good (not great) rotation also helps. But no matter how crappy the Yankees' staff is, their lineup will win 4 games out of 5 against awful pitching teams.

The Yankees' biggest test is coming up. They will face good pitchers, starting with Carmona. They'll win some, they'll lose some. But they will continue making up ground when they return to face more bad pitchers.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

"The Stretch" and the Rest of the Season

DV and I have been buddies since first semester freshman year. We started talking baseball right away, and for two guys who hate each others' teams so much, we rarely have big disagreements, at least relative to what you would expect from two guys who care about their respective teams so much. I think our agreeable conversations are due in part to the fact that we have both been so frustrated by our teams' front offices at times (DV more than I these days, but you should have seen me two years ago), and in part to the fact that we look at the game so differently. I micro-analyze the stuffing out of everything, while DV usually sees the big picture and large-scale trends. On topics Yankees and Red Sox, he often sees things I don't, and vice versa.

In the first week of July, we had a long conversation about the Yankees online. They were under .500, and DV was suggesting that maybe the Yankees simply weren't that good. It sounded weird, but at the time, it wasn't that crazy of a thought. Miserable road trip to Colorado, San Fran, and Baltimore, followed by a series loss at home to Oakland to lose all the ground they made up during the June hot streak and then some. I couldn't disagree, except to say that it was possible they would pull it together. I then pointed out that a 29 game post-All-Star Break stretch against the Devil Rays, Blue Jays, Royals, Orioles, and White Sox could be the place they could do it, and get back involved in the season. DV wasn't aware of this scheduling for the Yankees (why would he be, the Sox had a double digit lead at the time), but he obviously didn't like the sound of it. He has preached that the Yankees are built to destroy bad teams (I'm still looking forward to reading his post on the subject), and he said he wouldn't be suprised if the Yankees got back in the season with that stretch.

That stretch ended tonight. The Yankees went 21-8, and have gone 26-10 since July 2, bringing them to 63-51 on the season, a half game out of the Wild Card, and 5.5 out of the division, with a little under two months to go. I expected them to be good, but if I could have asked for a record, I wouldn't have been greedier than 20-9. 21-8 is beautiful, and it is so because with this one push, the Yankees have erased the need for any sort of extraordinary efforts the last two months to make the playoffs. They need to play well, obviously, but they don't need to play .750. The also have 22 more games against the Devil Rays, Royals, Orioles, and Blue Jays.

Playing well will not be as easy as it has been lately, as the competition is about to get as tough as it can get in the AL, literally. They have 21 games left in August. 17 are against Cleveland, Detroit, Anaheim, and Boston. Of those 17, 10 are on the road. YO!

The difference now is that the Yankees are a good team themselves. All of these teams need to worry about the Yankees as much as the Yankees need to worry about them, if not more, as the Yankees have been the best team in baseball since June 1 (41-22). Further, even when they were going bad in the first half, their record against above .500 teams was in the plus, and now they are going good. Anything can happen, but the Yankees are now right in the thick of both the divison and the Wild Card. The rest of this month, this next "stretch", is huge.

Speaking of the divison race, I see in the Boston media that there is a mixed bag of feelings on weather the Yankees are in it or not. I didn't really feel they were two days ago myself, because I thought 6 games against a team of Boston's caliber was still a lot. However, the old baseball adage is that as long as you are within as many games as you have left with a team you are chasing (in this case 6) you are in it. Further, in 2005, the Yankees were 5.5 games back of Boston at this time, and although they won it on the second to last day, the caught Boston and surpassed them for the first time on Sept. 21 (I know I bring up 2005 a lot, and have been met with a fair amount of criticism because it is in the past, but the parrallels are uncanny). So, I have since rethought my stance: we have a division race in the AL East. The Yankees will have to play well to catch Boston, but Boston will have to play well to fend the Yankees off.

Fundamentals? In the middle of the season?

Tonight might end up being my version of Pat's "What Do The New York Yankees Need? Me" post. Because tonight's loss was one of the more nauseating Red Sox losses I have witnessed in years.

I never got to address Donnie Sadler getting busted for steroids a week and a half ago, but maybe he wasn't natually better than Julio Lugo, as I stated on this blog. However, I would venture to say that I'd rather have David Ortiz play shortstop right now. Because Lugo has to be the worst regular in Major League Baseball.

Let's hear it, Lugo apologists. Tell me about his great sabermetric range (and fail to mention tonight's pivotal boot). Tell me about how hot he's been since the All-Star break (.240 for the last two weeks...talk about being on fire!) and fail to mention that he hasn't been the hottest hitter on the team during that time (Pedroia, Ramirez, Crisp). Tell me about his intangibles. But please, PLEASE, tell me about how .227 is much better than .189, while failing to mention that .227 still probably warrants a demotion to either the Minor Leagues or the Little Leagues.

If there were such things as "loss shares," Lugo's inability to get on base, move runners along, field a ground ball, or throw a ball to first base might give him more loss shares than Nancy Drew, Johnny Damon, and Kyle Farnsworth combined.

The fact that the Red Sox are getting shelled by the Angels just adds salt to the wound. The Red Sox promised an Orlando Cabrera-type spark out of Lugo when they signed him through the 2010 season at $9 million per year. Meanwhile, in the winter of 2004-5, they could have gotten an Orlando Cabrera-type spark for less annual money by signing...Orlando Cabrera, who's hitting .308.

I'll admit that I was okay with letting OC go. I was hoping they'd sign an Omar Vizquel-type for a year before Hanley Ramirez was ready to play short for Boston. But instead they signed a guy marginally better than his predecessor for a long-term contract for a lot more money than what his predecessor wanted. He was also a guy who was ripped by former manager Tony La Russa as a guy who might not mentally or emotionally cut out for playing baseball in Boston.

Oh, by the way, I'm talking about Edgar Renteria, though the SAME EXACT STUFF COULD BE SAID ABOUT JD DREW.

Renteria was a disaster. He was traded. Good; that means the Red Sox were ready for Hanley Ramirez to assume his position? Wrong. He couldn't hit AA pitching in 2005, so he was traded to Florida, where he went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year and tonight he hit his 20th home run of the 2007 season.

Yeah. Hanley Ramirez has more home runs than Manny Ramirez. He has more home runs than David Ortiz. But he can't hit AA pitching. Though now I can say I'm okay with Beckett and Lowell, that was a god-awful piece of scouting on the behalf of the Boston Red Sox. By the way, he's also hitting three forty-one. You can't spell that without F.

So they acquired Alex Gonzalez, who played what is almost unanimously considered the most stellar defense ever played by a Red Sox shortstop. But he sucked at hitting (only hitting .352 in June and .325 in July 2006 before suffering injuries--what a friggin stiff). So they decided to fill that hole with a slight defensive downgrade but tremendous offensive upgrade with big bat Julio Lugo, who boomed his way to a Ted Williams-esque .219 during the most recent two months of his baseball career before the acquisition.

And don't call me a bandwagon hater because--ask Pat--I compared this guy to Helen Keller in terms of baseball ability since before he was signed.

Tonight was the last straw for me in terms of Julio Lugo's performance. Tim Wakefield worked himself into a jam in the fifth inning, which is what knuckleballers tend to do sometimes. There were runners on first and second with no outs when a double-play ball game Lugo's way.

Yes, it was not hit right at him. He had to range slightly to his right. But as Lugo slurpers like to say, he has terrific range, so it shouldn't have given him much trouble to get to this double-play ball.

Lugo boots this routine ground ball. Second error in as many games. Zero outs are recorded. Wakefield and subsequently Delcarmen proceed to get lit up, which is what happens WHEN YOU GIVE A GOOD-HITTING TEAM FIVE OUTS IN AN INNING. By the way, thanks for the offensive contributions (0-3 so far).

Lugo has done plenty of unforgivable things all season. He's been absolutely abysmal. The out he ran into due to absolute mindlessness was the previous worst, but tonight surpassed that moment. Because it shrinks the lead over New York to five. This team is going to lose the AL East, possibly in a landslide. There are plenty of people to blame for this, but you have to look right at Lugo, because he's choked BIG so many times all season in big moments. Meanwhile, he's making the kind of money that makes you think he should be coming through in big moments. It's like Alex Rodriguez 2006 on a smaller scale.

Sure, he always played great against the Red Sox when he was on the Devil Rays. That's not a reason to sign a guy. If it was, Rodrigo Lopez and Mike Blowers would have lifetime contracts on this team.

Ironically, Lugo is still playing great against the Red Sox. But now he's playing on the Red Sox.

On a side note, Hazel Mae is an idiot. Joe Carter is not the only guy to hit a walkoff home run to end a World Series. Bill Mazeroski did it in 1960. Someone better get fired for that. Kick him out the door with Lugo and whoever said Hanley Ramirez can't hit AA pitching.

Five games. This post is long-winded and tangential, but I don't care. I'm so pissed I can't even see straight.