Thursday, July 31, 2008

Maybe I was wrong about Scott Boras!

As of the beginning of this post, still nothing done on Manny Ramirez's future. But something big about this whole Manny saga is something I actually didn't even know until yesterday after reading this article by Rob Bradford.

I always thought that Scott Boras would go to lengths other agents wouldn't go to help their clients. His loyalty to his clients sometimes came at the expense of baseball, which is something we've talked about A LOT regarding Alex Rodriguez and the Red Sox' backup center fielder who wears #46.

But now it's starting to look like Boras goes to lengths other agents go to help himself, not his clients. His loyalty to himself sometimes comes at the expense of baseball AS WELL AS the expense of his clients, and if he were to orchestrate Manny flipping out the last month, that falls right into this category. So does the A-Rod story, saying that he had no idea about what happened during Game Four of the 2007 World Series.

If Manny had remained Happy Manny (I'm going to continue to push the theory that the departure of Julian Tavarez was a turning point), and if he had continued to produce the way that he did in April (I'm surprised he didn't), and if he had continued to be a good media man, there was at least a remote chance that the Red Sox would drop the grudge against Manny and pick up one of his $20 million options. But here's what I didn't know before:

If the Red Sox had picked up one of the options, Boras would get $0 out of it.

So you'd think that the transformation of Happy Manny to Combative Manny might have had something to do with Scott Boras trying to get the Red Sox to NOT pick up the option. Who knows; the guy's done crazier things. BUT...Is that the best thing for the player? There's no way Manny commands $20 million per year on the open market now for the next two years. No friggin way.

If he continues to produce as a baseball player the way he has, it wouldn't surprise me if he got 4 years and $60 million. It is true that $60 million is more than the $40 million resulting in the two options being picked up, but I find it hard to believe that Manny couldn't command $10 million a year for the next two years.

So what I'm saying is that the Red Sox not picking up the option hurts the player, but helps the agent. Scott Boras, it can be argued, isn't looking out for his clients. He's looking out for #1.

And he's certainly not looking out for #46. Great decision last December.

And now that I'm done with the post, it looks like Manny's going to the Dodgers. More on that from me later on, but let's keep the trade discussion on the last thread. Great job so far today by the loyal readers.

I can't believe you won't shut up!

I have never, ever, in my entire life, heard an athlete talk so much crap about not his ex-employer, but his current employer. The way that Manny is bashing the Red Sox front office is making it a lot more likely that he actually WILL be traded. I mean, it is an absolute circus. This makes Johnny Damon's comments look like child's play, because all the "I, um, got dis, um, respected" nonsense was after Damon signed with another team.

If you get your baseball news from HYD Baseball, there are better outlets out there. But the big line he dropped was this one:

"The Red Sox don't deserve a player like me...The Red Sox did the same with guys like Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez, and now they do the same with me. Their goal is to paint me as the bad guy. I love Boston fans, but the Red Sox don't deserve me. I'm not talking about money."

While right now, I do believe that Manny's not talking about money (more on this in a later post), I am dumbfounded and flabbergasted at these comments. I'm just shocked, and I'd be speechless if I didn't have the responsibility to you guys to blog about it.

While I do think that the Red Sox really do engage in a lot of scummy business and media manipulation, I didn't really find them at fault for the Nomar, Pedro, or Manny messes. The Red Sox weren't the ones who sat on the bench while Jeter made an unnecessary diving play. I don't really remember Pedro doing anything wrong. He measured respect in dollars and cents, and everybody in the entire world knew that. Whichever Red Sox fans player hated on Pedro for leaving the way he did don't like the fact that Pedro's respect measurements are in those units. I got that and I hold nothing--NOTHING--against Pedro Martinez.

As far as Manny goes, the Red Sox aren't the ones who shoved Youkilis. The Red Sox aren't the ones who shoved Jack McCormick. While the Red Sox did DFA Manny's BOY Julian Tavarez, that's the only thing they've done during this entire season that could be considered anti-Manny. (I don't think that angle has gotten enough press, by the way. HYD Baseball is on the cutting edge of THIS story.) The Red Sox aren't the ones whining about the contract. The Red Sox aren't the ones faking a knee injury and mysteriously getting hurt when good pitchers are coming up.

The Red Sox aren't the ones being insubordinate, and not talking about how "09 I move on," WHILE THERE ARE STILL TWO MONTHS LEFT IN THE REGULAR SEASON! That stuff is all Manny. He's the one running himself out of town, because he's the one revolutionizing the Johnny F. Damon Method.

That said, I'm going to use Manny's own words he screamed at Jack McCormick: Do your job. If Manny is not traded, he better continue to do his job. Especially considering that nobody else on the team can hit (cult hero Nancy Drew hit .221/.361/.442 with 3 HR and 9 RBI in July, as David Murphy increased his RBI lead to 9), Manny should be responsible for helping his team make it to the playoffs.

Obviously, he doesn't care about that. Well, he's secured the fact that his option's not going to get picked up and that he's sacrificed himself several million over the next two years. If he does his job, however, he will help his market value.

4-8

That's the Red Sox' record since the All-Star Break. Yes, they've run into good teams over that stretch. But usually when you run into good teams, you have to beat them or you are not a good team yourself. And this Red Sox team, it is becoming more and more evident, is NOT that good of a team.

Just a few game notes:
a) Beckett is not the stopper he was last year. Not even close. He had a John Burkett-style 4th inning, pitching great for the first three and then coming out as a totally different person. Cool.
b) Four errors in one game, and Lugo's on the DL. Great focus, guys. Great focus. Three in one inning. Awesome. Coco misplayed another ball in center field. It's happened a lot this year. It explains his negative defensive VORP. I'd chalk that up to the fact that 46's electricity, spark, and energy are preventing him from getting a rhythm because he's not playing often enough.
c) The Red Sox got some actual F'ING offensive production out of the center field position, instead of fancy words like electricity, spark, and energy.
d) I am so glad the Red Sox didn't get Mark Teixeira. While Pat will talk about the Yankees in the playoffs all October (and there's only one), I will be putting together a series called "No Tex. No Problem!" in reference to the guy the Red Sox shouldn't get this offseason.

This team is 1-8 against the Angels, and 6-6 against both the Yankees and Religiously-Neutral Rays (0-6 at Tropicana Field). They are 2-4 against Toronto. They are eight (EIGHT!) games under .500 on the road. While the Yankees and RNRays are both eight above .500 in one-run games, the Red Sox are three games below .500. Nice bullpen.

So some of these in-depth stats look pretty friggin awful.

And the way the team is playing is as uninspired, lifeless, and apathetic as any time I remember (2006 comes to mind). That looks--just like those stats--pretty friggin awful.

I don't want to talk about the game, the Angels series, or anything like that anymore. I'm going to try to fire up a few posts regarding trading Manny, who's an absolute moron. It's gonna be non-stop rapid fire all afternoon. Keep your eyes here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

All Brian Cashman Does...

Is take big things from other teams and give smaller things back. That is, win trades...in a big way.

This is pretty much a no-brainer. You trade a reliever and get a catcher back. Catchers are more important than non-closer relievers. Then you add in that the catcher you are getting is a lot better at what he does than the reliever you are giving up is at what he does, and this one doesn't need a whole lot of explaining.

Yes, Farnsworth had found his groove this year. But under very few circumstances could he be trusted in any sort of big spot. Even Joe Girardi, who trusted Farnsworth more than anyone, went to Mariano for 5 outs when Farnsworth let two base runners on in Fenway last Friday night. In a game in July. You don't do that with a guy that you really trust.

Pudge is batting .295 on the season. He's also batting .359 in July, after batting .333 in June. Safe to say he's a pretty big upgrade offensively over Molina. He's not the defender Molina is (47% of baserunners caught stealing, best in the game), and definitely not what he once was, but he's not bad either (throwing out 36% of base runners, 15% better than All-Star Jason Varitek's 21%). He's not a healthy Posada, but he's still one of the better catchers in the game, especially in terms of hitting for average. And we've seen what he can do in the postseason time and time again, so if the Yankees get there, this will be a big plus.

To only give up a reliever, especially when relief pitching is an area of surplus for this club, to get this kind of upgrade at a premium position is about as good a move as you can possibly make. Oh yea, and since both are Free Agents at the end of this year, the Yankees traded a player who is not going to be a Type A FA (Farnsworth) for someone who is (Rodriguez). That means a First Round or First Round Supplemental in the 2009 Draft. The way the Yankees are drafting, getting more first round picks is a very big deal. Another great spot Cash.

After a good win today, the Yankees have a vicious schedule for the next two weeks. 4 at home with Anaheim, 4 on the road with Texas, 3 at Anaheim, and 3 at Minnesota, with no off days. The last thing the Yankees need to do to put themselves in the best position to compete for a playoff spot is get another starter in place of Sidney Ponson. Jarrod Washburn is not great, but he's a lot better than Sidney Posnon. That's the only thing that matters. Ian Kennedy followed up a performance in which two errors took away a perfecto for him last week at AAA (he gave up a hit after the second error with two outs in the final frame) with a 6 inning, 3 hit, 1 run outing. Again, I don't think he's ready to be great, but he could very well be an upgrade over Ponson. Again, that's what is important.

Anyway, another trade that substantially improves this year's club without sacrificing anything for next year or beyond. Phenomenal. Brian Cashman is having a contract year of his own.

Have Another Protein Shake: Insanity Edition

Insanity. Yup, that's pretty much the only way you can describe Joe Girardi's decision to bring Darrell Rasner back out for the 7th inning last night. I don't even know where to start. What has Darrell Rasner done, at any point in his professional career, to garner going further than the 6th inning? At 99 pitches?!?! Darrell Rasner is a 4th of 5th starter. When a 4th or 5th starter goes 6 innings and gives you quality, you get him out of there. And this is nothing against Rasner. Nothing. He gave the Yankees bigtime quality. But anything a 4th or 5th starter gives you anything less than 3 runs in 6 innings, it's house money. You run with it, you don't try to get more. Unless of course your offense explodes. The Yankees offense did not explode last night.

Joe Girardi, you are no longer a catcher. You are the manager of the New York Yankees. Your job is not to try and get each and every starter through as many innings as possible. Your job is to give the team every chance to win games. The team did not have a big lead, and Darrell Rasner had not been as good as his line suggested. 10 base runners, and at least one in scoring position every inning for the first four, is not dominant. If he had been dominant, or the team had a big lead, that would be one thing. But the Yankees were trailing, 2-1. What is the advantage of bringing Rasner back out, to face the TOP OF THE ORDER, at 99 pitches? Seriously, can anyone name me one?

ESPECIALLY WHEN YOUR BULLPEN HAS THE SIXTH BEST ERA IN BASEBALL. At this point, we may as well send down two relievers and bring two pinch hitters up. BECAUSE THEY NEVER GET USED IN APPROPRIATE SITUATIONS. Hey, Joe, do you bother to look at any statistics? Edwar Ramirez hasn't allowed a run in 13 innings. HE HASN'T ALLOWED A HIT IN HIS LAST 11 INNINGS. You have made it very clear that Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Veras are your set-up men. Do you think, that maybe in one way, shape, or form, a 2-1 deficit in th 7th inning of a game you need to win might just be a good spot to use someone who HAS BEEN ABSOLUTELY DOMINANT, AND IS MORE THAN CAPABLE OF GOING TWO INNINGS????

Apparently not. You'd rather have Darrell Rasner give up a base hit to Brian Roberts and hit a batter to put two runners on and nobody out WITH THE THREE AND FOUR HITTERS COMING UP. Which quite honestly, is somewhat predictable BASED ON HOW MOST OF RASNER'S CAREER AS WELL AS THIS VERY GAME HAD GONE. There are base runners on. Then you go to the bullpen. With two on, you make yourself susceptible to the bloop and a blast, which is exactly what happened. Markakis blooped one, Huff blasted a bases clearing double. Nice. Of course, Damaso Marte has to do a better job there. But hey Joe, how about realizing you can't always put runners on base and expect your bullpen to just get out of it. Eventually, it is possible that some of these guys will regress to normal levels. We saw what that means last night.

You have to do two things here, Joe. First, you have to manage the team that you actually have, not the team that you were supposed to have. Second, as I've mentioned in this space before, you have to start managing to win certain games (and just more intelligently in general).

I understand, you were supposed to have a huge offense. But no Matsui, no Posada, and that's flat out changed. In 2006, with the same team, Robinson Cano was having a better season than he is having now, and he batted 9th. Now he's batting 6th. Which is something he is capable of (as he's showing), and the offense is good enough. But the offense is not what it was for the last three years. I realize this is probably frustrating, especially because you are getting the best pitching the Yankees have gotten in five years. But this is the reality. You aren't getting 6+ runs per game. So you have to manager the pitching far more carefully. WHICH SHOULDN'T BE TOO DIFFICULT CONSIDERING HOW EFFECTIVE THREE OF YOUR STARTING PITCHERS AND THE ENTIRE BULLPEN HAS BEEN.

As far is in game goes, I told DV at the All-Star Break I thought there were 10 games at that point where Joe Girardi could have given this team a better chance to win, and he either didn't, or gave them a worse chance to win. Of those 10 games, 6 were winnable. Since the Yankees were, and still are, playing mid-.500's baseball, I figured it was reasonable to expect, had Girardi given them a chance, the Yankees to win 3 of those 6 games. DV gave me that, and I think it's fair. Since the All-Star Break, Girardi has done it twice more. Sunday night in Boston. Last night. Managed with the slightest bit of intelligence or aggressiveness, and the Yankees probably win one of those games. SO make the numbers 12, 8, and 4. Four wins Girardi has cost the Yankees (at least). Nice managing.

Joe, you have to get a feel for the game. Like Sunday, the offense, despite not scoring runs early, was attacking last night. The had six runners in scoring position in the first six innings, they just couldn't get the hit (besides A-Rod's homer). This is going to happen. You should always try to keep a game close, but when you see this happening, IT IS ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT TO DO THIS, BECAUSE THERE IS A GOOD CHANCE THE YANKEES WILL SCORE RUNS AT SOME POINT. IT ISN'T ILLEGAL TO SCORE RUNS LATE IN THE GAME FOR A COMEBACK WIN. Last night the Yankees ended up scoring 3 in the 8th, 2 in the 9th. They scored 6 runs in a game that was 2-1 in the 7th. Thanks in large part to YOUR INSANITY, Joe, setting up that huge 4 run 7th, it ended up not being enough. Nice job.

What is most crushing about this whole thing is that the players, for the most part, are really doing their job. Darrell Rasner was outstanding last night, given the expectations, and was asked to do too much. No, the offense didn't score early, but it's not a requirement that the team score early. The runs that are scored late count to. On top of that, the offense, even on nights they don't score a lot, or early, they are scrapping. They continue to press and attack and eventually are getting the big hits, which is a divergence from how things were going earlier in the season. But the manager is not utilizing these efforts effectively. And as such the Yankees are missing out on winning games they could win. They aren't going to win them all. But even if they win half, or less than half, that's more wins than they are getting being managed the way they are now. Terrible. Flat out insanity.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A New York View of the Nady/Marte Trade

Sorry it took me so long to get to this. First, great trade, and we'll get to that in a second. But before that, the way this trade when down was very, very interesting, and not only shows why this is such a good trade, but perhaps should show us a little bit about how we look at and think about prospects. I know it did for me. And it all has to do with the pitching the Yankees gave up. Let's take a look at this, then what the Yankees got.

If you were to ask me the day before the trade to rank the five pitchers that were at one point or another involved, this is how it would have went:
1. Daniel McCutchen
2. Ross Ohlendorf
3. Phil Coke (though he was making a move on Ohlendorf, is also left handed, and Ohlendorf's inability to develop his slider as an out pitch is leaving him with little more than a big arm)
4. George Kontos
5. Jeff Karstens

So what's interesting? The only pitcher Pittsburgh demanded be part of the deal is Ohlendorf, he of the bloated ERA who gave up a million homers in very few innings in relief this year. I would have had McCutchen substantially above him, yet Pittsburgh had it the other way around. Either Pittsburgh is really dumb, or McCutchen, in all likelihood, isn't all that special, much like Ohlendorf.

After Ohlendorf, Pittsburgh had a list of pitchers from which to select two, and that list included McCutchen, Coke, Kontos, and Karstens. They selected McCutchen, which is a no brainer. But after that, they jumped two spots down on my list and took Karstens over both Coke and Kontos. Considering how Coke has looked at AA (DV, have you seen him?), I would have had a big gap between Coke and Karstens, especially considering Coke is left handed. I'll admit, something that really stung about the initial rumored trade to me was losing Coke. But, Pittsburgh, when given the chance to select him, took Karstens, who is so good Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner continue to get starts over him in New York. Either Pittsburgh is really dumb, or Coke, in all likelihood, isn't all that special, much like Karstens.

So what did we (or at least I) get a reality check in here? A lot of pitchers get a lot of hype in the minors. Even the elite ones miss sometimes (but these are the ones you should hold), and these mid level ones, despite the hype and the numbers, don't pan out very often, and are pretty interchangeable. As long as you have depth in the system, like the Yankees do, and get value in return, like the Yankees did, you can very much afford to give up any combination of McCutchen, Ohlendorf, Coke, Kontos, and Karstens. Sure, you might get burned once in a while, because some of these types certainly do turn out to be consistent rotation contributors or better. But that isn't the norm, or the average. And I am fine playing the averages.

In terms of the trade itself, I am in line with pretty much everyone else that this trade is an absolute steal, at least in the present. You can't really evaluate a trade like this for a few years, until we find out what the prospects turn out to be, but right now it looks pretty good. We covered the pitchers above, and as it stands right now, McCutchen definitely has potential, but is 26. Ohlendorf has a big fastball, but no secondary pitches and really struggled to get outs. Karstens has very little stuff but battles. Each of them could be consistent Major League pitchers, as they do have talent. But probably not impact contributors for a team like the Yankees. McCutchen maybe, and he's probably the biggest loss as of now. But unless something changes, not Ohlendorf and Karstens.

Tabata is young and has tons of tools. But he's had injuries as well as attitude and disciplinary issues. Austin Jackson, who DV raves about, has blown past him on the depth chart. He's so young that he very well could come back to bite the Yankees, but it also might have been a good time to deal him, because his stock could drop as well. This trade will ultimately hinge on what all of these prospects turn out to be, but probably him more than anyone else, just because of the youth and the talent.

In terms of what the Yankees got back, Nady is a righty bat that has been above average for his career (107 OPS+) that also happens to be having a career year (141 OPS+ in '08 for Pitt). He's a career .318/.395/.480 vs. lefties, which is exactly what the doctor ordered for this Yankee ballclub. That he can play left everyday and let Damon DH is a big bonus.

Damaso Marte is, simply put, one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball. In 791 career ABs lefties are hitting .198 off of him, slugging .284. Welcome, welcome, welcome. And he's not a lefty specialist, getting righties out at a high level as well. He might be the Yankees' best reliever outside of Rivera, and anytime you can add an arm like this, that happens to be left-handed, it's a big pickup.

What's the icing on the cake? Both can be controlled by the Yankees for 2009 for minimal money. The Yankees can bring Nady back to play right, deal him for a need (he's a desirable player with a good contract), or use him as leverage to give Abreu a better deal. Marte can and will be brought back for $6 million. Why the Pirates would give up someone like this who can be controlled for so little money, and not get more in return, is perplexing.

Most importantly, as my boy Joel Sherman said in the Post over the weekend, this is a trade for 2008, that also helps 2009, and doesn't sacrifice the future. That's why this trade is so great. Good spot Cash.

"7-3 is not game over."

I found it strange when Pat said that in his "weekend recap" post yesterday, and I left a comment about how with this year's Red Sox (after Patriots' Day Weekend), 7-3 is a "game over" situation. Of course, last night, the Red Sox were stuck in a similar 7-3 deficit against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. And we saw exactly why 7-3 actually is game over.

(An aside: Just another reason I have no problem with that ball getting away from Craig Hansen the other night.)

A four-run deficit is rarely surmountable when you have this kind of lineup. Though it is true that every player on the team got a hit last night except for the usually-reliable Pedroia, they can't seem to string them together. When Jered Weaver gives up six hits and three walks, you should be able to muster more than three runs off of him, especially with Jose Arredondo coming on in relief and throwing balls in the dirt. Nice sixth inning.

Nice swing on that 57-foot ball in the dirt, 46. Way to leave the bases loaded. Was there any doubt that 46 would either look at a ball on the outside corner or swing at a ball in the dirt in a bases-loaded, 2-out situation at the crossroads of the baseball game? 46 is slowly starting to resemble the way Nancy Drew played last year--frequently up in big moments, but strikes out on terrible pitches or grounds out to second to end the inning.

Also, though it's hard to knock Manny for last night, nice inning-ending double play to kill another rally. It is because of this--the lack of timely hitting--that the team with the third-most runs scored in the majors is basically out of the game if they're down four runs.

P.S. Nice sixth inning, Daisuke. I guess it's better to walk eight guys than it is to groove the ball over the plate. Are you trying to make a statement that eight walks should be acceptable?

If the Red Sox are not swept in this series, it will be a minor miracle.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Have Another Protein Shake

Welcome to the first installment of Have Another Protein Shake, profiling the adventures of the man who loves protein shakes more than The Big Ticket himself, Joe Girardi.

Tonight we learned why you don't give away games like last night, when your starter stinks but your offense is alive. That's because you have nights like tonight, when a good starter gets hit, your offense is asleep, and you just flat out get beat up and down for nine innings. Again, this is meant to take nothing away from Jon Lester, but he could have been gotten to last night, at least enough to make it interesting. Jeremy Guthrie was flat unhittable tonight. Last night you had a chance, and you have to recognize that (and get Sidney Ponson out), because tonight you had no chance. And that's going to happen. If you can steal 1-2 games where you have a chance, albeit a small one (like last night), then that's 1-2 wins more than you'd have operating the way the Yankees are this year under Girardi.

Please retire already, Kevin Millar. You're batting .241 on the season, .324 against the Yankees. You have 15 home runs total in 100 games, 5 coming in the 10 games you've played against the Yankees (10 in the other 90). You have one homer every 7 at bats against the Yankees, one every 30 against everybody else. My word. If you don't want to retire, please go to the National League. If you don't want to do that, at the very least, please get out of the American League East. You make it very difficult for the Yankees to beat the team you play on because you inexplicably become Albert Pujols against them. You came up today with two on in the second inning and I said to my buddy, totally serious, "Here comes a three-run homer". Two pitches later, bada boom bada bing. I don't like things being that easy to call when those things hurt my team. Go away. Please.

Weekend Recap

I'll get to the trade soon, because I have some stuff to say about that. Fenway Park was incredibly on Saturday. Incredible. That stadium during the day is as good and as pure as baseball gets. I'm going to go game by game, and hopefully it will be brief. Nobody got swept, and as I said, the series wouldn't be that big of a deal if that was the case. However, as I also said, it would be a little bit of a bigger deal if it was the Red Sox who lost the series, and that was the case. Gut check in Boston the next three days. You don't find a way to win that series at home, there might be some legitmate questions about this team's toughness. Because they are talented everywhere but the bullpen, so that's not the issue. Toughness might be. When I look at that team - and I just got an up close look all weekend - the only players I'm positive to be tough are Pedroia, Youkilis, Lowell, Beckett, and Lester. That's five. There are 25 on a roster. I'm not saying others aren't, but I'm also not saying they are. This series against the Angels will be the most interesting to watch of the Boston series to date for this very reason.

GAME 1

What a game. Beckett was very good. The results were excellent, and the way he got those results were not, so very good is probably in the middle. He had a good curveball but his fastball was getting waxed, and that's why he gave up 7 hits before there were two outs in the fourth, which is questionable. However, despite giving up 9 hits, he worked out of every jam but a lone dribbler RBI single, and really only got one huge defensive play behind him (Youkilis turning an Abreu two run double into a DBP), and this is very much to his credit.

The story of this game, of course, was that it might be the one we look back to as the one where Joba Chamberlain arrived. I've said before that the only thing he needs to do is stay healthy, and it's looking more and more like this is the case. First start in Fenway, big game in the standings, facing one of the better pitchers in baseball. To allow go 7 innings, allow only 3 hits and a walk, yield zero runs, let only one runner get into scoring position (none to third base), and retire the last 10 batters you face, 5 via the strikeout, is as big a statement as you can make personally, and for your ballclub. Now listen, and mark this down. There is not one player in baseball, any age, any level, who I would trade Chamberlain for. Not for the last two months. Not for next year. Not ever. He's that good. Just stay healthy.

Kyle Farnsworth is helping this team. But he can get all the outs he wants against lesser teams, especially at home, especially when there is more than a one run cushion. But when we are on the road, especially against a good team, especially in a one run game, he should not be pitching. Period. If Girardi trusted him as much as he says, he wouldn't have gone to Mo for a 5 out save. If Varitek didn't have an AB in that inning, the Red Sox probably would have tied the game before Rivera came in.

Have to quickly address the Joba/Youkilis issue. Obviously, I don't know what really happened. But 7th inning, 1 run game, with a fastball crusher on deck, I don't think he's trying to hit him. You also look at Joba's reaction before the ball even reached homeplate and you could tell that's not where he wanted to throw it. I know they have a history, but you have to remember one thing, which is most important. Kevin Youkilis, like Derek Jeter, is a very good hitter. A big reason why both of these players are very good hitters is that they lean their top half out over the plate. You can't even think about pitching them away, because they go that way. You can't even think about coming down the middle, because you don't do that to anyone, let alone pure line drive hitters. You can't come down and in, because they have quick hands (which is the reason they can lean out in the first place), as we saw when Rivera executed a perfect pitch there and Youkilis ripped it between third and short in his very next at bat. What does that leave? Up and in. You have to come up and in on hitters like this with fastballs. This is why Jeter gets hit all the time. And this is why Youkilis gets hit. Joba is not going to give in 2-0, and tried to come to the one spot, for a strike, on the hands, that he thinks he can get Youkilis: a jam. He didn't execute. End of story.

GAME 2

Great job by Pettitte. Didn't have his A+ stuff, got a terrible, terrible error to open his outing from A-Rod, but minimzed the damage in the first, and that ended up being the game. Cruised the rest of the way, allowing only a solo homer to Drew. That first inning could have gotten out of control, but not with Pettitte. That's why I want him on my team no matter what. Great job by the Girardi and the Yankees' bullpen at 7-3 as well. Marte and Ramirez getting Papi and Ramirez with two on is something that probably wouldn't have happend last year, or the year before, or the year before, unless Rivera was pitching. And that is where this Yankee bullpen is.

Tim Wakefield is what he is, which is usually better than good. But he just can't pitch against the Yankees. And everyone got an up close look that Robinson Cano is not an "automatic out".

Have to talk about Hansen/A-Rod. I have no problem with the Red Sox coming back at the Yankees, no matter what the intentions were Friday night with Joba. I also have no idea if Hansen was trying to hit him, much like the night before. However, if he was, Craig, come on guy. If you're going to hit someone, you probably shouldn't absolutely stink, especially if there are already two guys on. You have one of the most patient hitters in baseball on deck, and you can't throw a strike. Of course after you walk him you have to deal with the hottest hitter in baseball, who is hitting everyone let alone someone who can't get anybody out, and of course he blasts a two run double. 7-3 is not game over. 10-3 is. Nice job.

GAME 3

Jon Lester, like Beckett, got good results, which is most important, no question. But he was nowhere near last time he faced this club, allowing 10 baserunners before he recorded an out in the 5th, 7 of which got into scoring position. This is bad. One base hit in a few different situations and this is not going to be a pretty outing, but he never allowed that hit, and this is to his credit. Also to his credit is taking it seven innings once he got a few more insurance runs despite not being lights out previously.

Also a good job by the Yankees to battle Lester, despite not getting the big hit, and despite knowing they have a terrible pitcher on the mound. Showed me something.

But Joe, Joe, Joe. We talked about identifying Saturday, which I much compliment him, he did. But he also got a big effort from his starter, a bigger effort from his offense, and all he had to do was mix and match effectively for the 7th inning, which he did.

But Mussina took it 8 innings on Wednesday. You had off Thursday. None of your relievers had thrown in both games, and outside of Rivera, nobody had appeared more than once since last Tuesday, four days ago. On top of that you are up 2-0 in the series and the other team ahead of you in the division had already lost that day. Might I (and Joe Torre) have now identified this game as one to go after? Yes.

Girardi did not. Now, maybe he figured he alredy had the series, and wanted to make sure he went home to face Baltimore best equipped to win that series, because those games matter too, and winning series is what's important right now. But again, the bullpen can't be more rested, especially coming off the All-Star Break. Everyone talks about the depth as the bullpen's biggest strength, and this is true. But this depth allows for a bigger workload than what they are currently doing. Ponson stinks and you know the Red Sox are going to crush him. How about going to Robertson/Ramirez (I would argue Farnsworth, but know it's unrealistic) for innings 4-6? See if they can hold it at 5-0? If not, you can always go to Giese to eat the rest of the game. But why allow Ponson and Giese to keep giving up runs and let the game get out of hand when there are better options? What's the point of having such a deep bullpen if you aren't going to attempt to have them hold deficits manageble (5 runs or less) early in games? Outside of Rivera, who closes, and Giese, the long man, we have 5 relievers with ERA's in the low 3's or better. They can't all pitch in innings 6-8 when the team is winning. And since we have set-up by committee (something I agree with), you have the luxury of going to these guys early. Why does Robertson pitch the 9th of a 10-3 game (almost 100% over) on Saturday, but not at all when it's 5-0 in the 4th (game not nearly over). It makes no sense, and I don't agree with it. I hope this was Girardi mailing one in and that he will start doing this more starting now.

Good job by the Sox coming back and winning convincingly, however. No question they deserve the credit. I just wish we would have made them work harder for hit, since we have the ability to.

Great weekend overall. Will be interesting to watch both of these clubs this week to see how they come off it.

The Johnny F. Damon Method

Note: I'll let Pat talk about the last two games this weekend. Lester is a good pitcher--again. One walk against an intimidating Yankees lineup. Sidney Ponson sucks.

Want to run yourself out of town? The Johnny F. Damon Method of running yourself out of town is gaining quite a bit of popularity, as Manny Ramirez is not only using it, but is revolutionizing the technique.

You see, Johnny F. didn't start bitching about his contract until fifteen minutes after the Red Sox were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005. His postgame press conference was not spent answering questions, but was spent talking about how much money and respect he wanted.

But at least Johnny F. Damon had the decency to wait until the season was over. Manny Ramirez is not even doing that, bringing the distraction to the forefront more than two months before the playoffs (if they happen here this year) even start. I understand that this is not an illegal thing.

"I don't want to talk to them about contracts right now," said Manny. Okay. He wants to talk about them to the media instead. That's what my problem is.

I consider people whining about their contracts to be unforgivable, and the fact that Manny switched agents in February is another black mark on his record. Manny should probably focus less on getting his money for the next few years and focus more on hitting a friggin fastball so he can have a job for the next few years.

There's a bit of a T.O.-effect here. I read the extensive account of the Manny story on Boston.com's Extra Bases, and the Peter Gammons observations about who Manny's been sitting against (Felix Hernandez twice, Justin Chamberlain twice, Edinson Volquez, and Justin Verlander) are particularly interesting. If this were to happen to any other player on any other team, I'd say it's brilliant. The fact that he's sitting against hard-throwing pitchers and therefore is covering up his blatant weaknesses is comical and brilliant. Contract year, don't want to mess up your statistics. Manny is a self-appointed platoon player, and that is hilarious. Of course, seeing that the well-being of myself and my friends rests on Manny's team's success, it's not as funny.

Also part of the Boston.com rundown was Eric Wilbur's column about how Manny's behavior, specifically his inexpicable shutdown in 2005, his inexplicable shutdown in 2006, and his unfathomable behavior with his hands, his knee, and his mouth in 2008 may tarnish what really was a great era in Boston. Well, it is what it is. That's what happens when you use the Johnny F. Damon Method of Running Yourself Out of Town.

That said, I am in disagreement with some of the people who commented previously on Manny. I think he's gone and he should be gone. The Red Sox have been trying to unload him ever since Theo Epstein climbed aboard. So after all the crap that's happened this year, paired with his good-not-great performance in both of the last two years, you think the Red Sox should pay MORE THAN market value for a 37-year old outfielder who sometimes likes to shut down all operations? By opting out of his contract, for the first time, the Red Sox can get rid of Manny without the help of anyone else! Obviously he's gone! He won't be traded, because that would require somebody's help. And as we've seen for five years now, nobody in Major League Baseball wants to help by acquiring Manny and his contract.

I also want to go so far as to say that if the Red Sox tank and fall out of contention (I give this a 40% chance), they should bench Manny as a punishment. I said earlier that benching Manny wouldn't work because he'd just hang out with his boy Enrique Wilson, but if Manny's intentionally sitting out games against good pitchers, maybe he can "rest his knee" for the rest of the season. Home run total doesn't hit 30. RBIs don't reach 85. Raises more "what's his health like?" questions. If they pull out the feeding tube on Manny, THEN we'll see some financial ramifications.

"Oh-nine I move on," he said. It should be interesting to figure out where he'll end up. A somewhat dark-horse candidate, I'd say, would be the Phillies. I wouldn't be surprised if Manny agreed to a short-year contract a la Andruw Jones with the team, as they'll have to fill the hole left by Pat Burrell. There, he can pad his stats in the Citizens Bank Men's League Softball Park (Coco had two homers there) and his dirtbag agent can fetch him more money while marketing him as a renaissance man who can overcome injury and perform well into his mid-40s.

There were a lot of thoughts there. Sorry if they're overwhelming. I'll be away from the computer racing tomorrow, so have a great day.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Boston View of the Marte Trade

Note: I wrote this on Saturday morning. Before the Saturday game. I don't want to talk about the Saturday game. Just terrible.

It's a really good trade by the Yankees. This is why.

1. Nady is an okay player. As it stands (and I'm risking the wrath of From the Bronx to fall on me), Brett Gardner is not an okay player. I'm risking nobody's wrath by saying that Melky Cabrera is not an okay player. I'm not sure what capacity they're going to have Nady in there for, but it will cut down on those two players' playing time.
2. Marte is a top non-closer reliever, and he has been for a while. We've talked about how the Yankees' bullpen has been top-notch this year, and we've also talked about how this is a surprise. Is anyone concerned about the bullpen coming back to earth? If I were a Yankee fan, I sure would be. The acquisition of Marte would quell those fears...a little bit.

3. Selling Jose Tabata is a risk-averse move. His stock has fallen because of his poor performance, his inconsistent effort, and other behavioral problems. This has been discussed enough for this Red Sox fan to know about it.

4. Ohlendorf? I know that Pat might have a candlelight vigil for him, but knowing all this crap about the Yankees' farm bullpen (Trenton's the best in the Eastern League...by far), Ohlendorf has no long-term position on this team. He would, however, become a value piece of a Pittsburgh team.

5. The Red Sox really could have used Marte...and Nady. Keeps them out of the Red Sox' hands. We're saying this about more and more acquisitions with these two teams. But that's absolutely a factor.

Anyway, good move by the Yankees. It's safe to say that they'll hang around this pennant race.

Take Some Pointers from Archie Graham

Shoeless Joe Jackson: The first two were high and tight, so where do you think the next one's going to be?
Archie Graham: Well, either low and away or in my ear.
Shoeless Joe Jackson: He's not going to want to load the bases, so look low and away.
Archie Graham: Right.
Shoeless Joe Jackson: But watch out for in your ear.

Archie Graham, of course, was a borderline major leaguer. He played in one inning of one game and got zero at-bats. But if he got an at-bat, I would venture to guess it would have been better than 46's last at-bat last night. It looks like only the Yankees are continuing to execute the Blueprint, because they're still frequently pitching to 46 by throwing heat up on the hands. And they're getting great success, as 46 put forth another brilliant 0-4, 2K effort last night. His eighth-inning at-bat against Rivera with two men on was enough to reinforce my feelings that he is not the future Hall of Famer Steve Buckley thinks he is.

Rivera delivered two pitches in the Blueprint Zone, up on the hands...both for strikes. After an 0-2 waste pitch, Rivera's next pitch was low and away. This was apparently confusing for 46, who just looked at amazement as it went by for a called third strike. Especially with an umpire that's calling everything for strikes (nine strikeouts looking) that night, you might want to protect the plate a little bit. You know, also when you're down a run and the tying and go-ahead runs are on base? 46 forgot to use his mind and it cost the Red Sox not only the golden opportunity to score runs off of Farnsworthless, but it cost them basically their only rally of the night. Terrible. They say 46 should be moved down in the order. Exactly. To 10th.

Speaking of Farnsworthless in the eighth, Pat sent me a text about how he cannot be trusted in big moments. Sure wasn't very sharp in his outing last night. However, Captain K did him a favor by swinging at the first pitch and popping out. Great at-bat. 0-3 with 2K. Great game.

In the fourth, Nancy chased a ball over his head, ultimately striking out swinging. In the ninth, he struck out looking on a ball in the strike zone. He is the most frustrating baseball player I have ever seen, and the fact that he proved in June that he doesn't just flat-out suck makes it more frustrating. 0-4 with 2K. Great game.

Contract Year, Gotta Play Baseball

Time to update the standings of the most enfuriating games of the season:
1. Lugo Game
2. Last Night
3. Crikey Game
4. Sunday Night. It is usually not a good thing when you add two games to the top four in a week. But last night was a game that make the bus start up, with the parties at fault being thrown underneath. Let's go.

First, let's talk about the good things. Josh Beckett was very good last night. Not the best I've seen him, but still pretty friggin good. His breaking stuff was devastating (as far as movement goes), though his location might be a bit off here and there. He did get in trouble a few times, but he got himself out of it, more or less. Also notable (and probably especially vexatious to Pat because he loves hearing Red Sox fans talk about it) was the fact that Hideki Okajima pitched well. The fact that Red Sox players are discussing retaliation for Justin Chamberlain's habitual aggressive behavior is also good.

Okay. Happy time is over. I'm pissed. And it is pretty easy where to start. Where everybody else is starting. And that is with Manny Ramirez. I feel like I'm pretty much in line with the rest of Red Sox fans regarding Manny Being Manny. I'm not a Manny-hater, nor am I a Manny aplogist any more than your average Red Sox fan. It is true that I wrote off the Youkilis incident and I didn't want to talk about the Jack McCormack incident until I was put under fire (and deservedly so) for ignoring it. But just like the rest of the fan base and every writer in this region, he's turned on me so I'm turning on him.

I mean, this is the first time Francona has implicitly called him out since he decided to protest his non-day-off in Tampa Bay in 2005. And this behavior is usually accepted as long as the team is winning. And they are not. Having Manny in the lineup instead of a dude like 46, who is absolutely worthless (more on him later) might have been the difference between winning and losing. The fact that they called his bluff and gave Manny MRIs is telling.

The most inexplicable thing about Manny doing this nonsense is that the only thing it's doing for him is hurting his market value. Now, there is no way the Red Sox are picking up his contract option, which is what he wanted in the first place when he became Happy Manny in April. And other teams know that not only is he old and not the hitter he once was, but he fights with teammates, punches traveling secretaries, and intentionally tries to hurt the team when he doesn't get his way.

Now I don't want to start any conspiracy theories, but...it seems like Happy Manny disappeared shortly after alternate captain Julian Tavarez was DFA'ed. And Mike Timlin still has a job.

I have more to say. Hold on.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Don't Get Swept

I'm making my annual trip to Boston for Yankees/Red Sox this weekend, and will be in the house on Saturday. I'm looking forward to going to my first day game at Fenway, because from what I've seen, that is when Fenway is at it's best. Always getting into the park early for the 7 and 8 PM starts I've been to, I've found Fenway to be almost majestic when the sun is still up, especially when the the sun is setting and the lights go on. When the sun sets, to me it loses a little bit of it's feel. The green around the stadium dulls out and there just doesn't seem like there is a whole lot of punch. This is the exact opposite of Yankee Stadium, which I find to be totally blah during the day, and in all it's glory when it gets dark and the lights go on. The blue around the stadium coupled with the lights makes the whole thing, namely the field and the players' jersey, glow and it's just awesome. Anyway, looking forward to my first day game in Fenway after many night games.

I'm also looking forward to following up on something I noticed last year when I was in Boston for Yanks/Sox. It was the weekend the Yankees got swept (I vowed I would never return, but I am). However, despite sweeping, the Red Sox got terrible performances from Schilling (7 innings, 5 runs), Beckett (6.2 innings, 5 runs) and Matsuzaka (7 innings, 6 runs). Yet each left not to cheers, not to applause, not to thanks for the innings, not even thanks for the lead (Schilling didn't have one, so that reasoning would be out), but THUNDEROUS, 8 inning, 10 strikeout, 2 hit shutout roars. As I wrote on HYDB at the time, this got me to thinking "What happens when a Red Sox pitcher actually pitches well?". Like, for example, a good old fashioned quality start (which was in a different stratosphere compared to those outings). Are there fireworks? What if a pitcher is dominant? Do they storm the field before the game is over? I'm not familiar with this custom of roaring when your pitcher turns in subpar work (if I was Schilling, Beckett, or Matsuzaka I would have been somewhat embarrased by the cheers), so while I hope no Red Sox pitcher tosses a good one, I'm legitimately interested (and somewhat scared) to see what happens if they do.

As for the series itself, the Yankees should be going in with one goal in mind: don't get swept. Getting swept would give back a lot of the good work they have done in the standings this month. Just win one game. If you win two, great. But considering the pitching matchups, the Yankees should be focused on winning one game and getting out of Boston alive. You aren't going to make up all of the ground at once. They have made up a lot recently, and the objective this weekend is not to give it all back to a really good team who has won three in a row, in their park, in a series when Sidney Ponson is pitching.

In talking to DV last week, I mentioned that perhaps my biggest beef with Joe Girardi is that he has not done a good job of identifying games he wants, or needs, to win. In a 162 game season, you cannot approach every game the same way. There have been maybe been 5 teams in history (like the 1998 Yankees), who could just show up and that was good enough to win, no matter what they do. Everyone else has to tactically attack certain games, or groups of games, they want to win based on circumstances like their opponent, pitching matchups, the next night's matchup, etc. A perfect example of Girardi not doing this is him putting out the B lineup vs. Paul Maholm, with Halladay on the hill the following night. You are going to lose to Halladay anyway, so whatever lineup you decide to play vs. him, you HAVE to play your A+ lineup vs. Maholm, because if you lose that one (like the Yankees did), then you are almost guaranteed two lossess in a row. If Paul Maholm is going to beat you the night before Halladay, he better have to beat the A+ lineup. This was probably Torre's biggest strength as a manager. He knew how to identify games he knew would be important to win, like the Maholm game in Pitt. He would have gone above and beyond to win that game. Girardi did the opposite.

Girardi has another chance to do it this weekend. We talked yesterday about Mussina's peripherals justifying his performance. I am a big believer in this. As such, it is fair for me to say that Sidney Ponson is due to get whacked any time now. He has been a tight rope act every time out, and it is going to catch up to him this weekend in Boston. The Red Sox are a patient team with a lot of good hitters, and he is not going to be able to continue to put the amount of guys on base that he has and work his way out of it. Not against a team like Boston. Too many contact guys that get big hits. He's also facing one of the hottest pitchers in baseball, who happens to be left-handed, which spells trouble for the Yankees' lineup. Even if the Yanks get to him, the Sox will get to Ponson more. The Yankees are losing Sunday night, you can mark that down.

That leaves two toss-up matchups on Friday and Saturday. Since you are on the road, you can only reasonably expect to get, at most, one of these. And, since you like your chances to hit Wakefield better than your chances to hit Beckett, Joe Girardi should be identifying Saturday as a game he needs to win no matter what. If you lose Friday, then you have to win Saturday because if you don't, you are getting swept. If you do happen to win Friday, then you should be going absolutely, 100%, all out after Saturday, because that would be a big, big opportunity to steal a series in Boston and gain ground on at least one team in front of you. So no matter what, Saturday is the day. It makes sense from pretty much every standpoint.

What do I mean by identifying, and going after a game? Play the A+ lineup, no matter what. Be agressive early offensively with runners on base (steal, bunt, hit and run, whatever you can to try to have a big inning or manufacture a run). Don't be afraid to pinch hit (something the Yankees now need to do more of with their new look 7-9 hitters) for a Molina in the 6th in a scoring situation, even though it leaves you with one catcher for the rest of the game. And, especially against the Red Sox, who seem to have a penchant for getting into a groove against a starter in the middle innings, don't be afraid to go to the bullpen really early. This is even more true considering 1) Pettitte has been great and then okay, great and then okay, great and then okay, and he was great last time out, so who knows for this outing, 2) the Red Sox can't get into a groove if they only see a pitcher for one inning at a time, and 3) they'll have a tougher time getting into a groove considering the guys they would be seeing, even in the 5th inning, have been really good lately. Do anything and everything you can to win. This is what Girardi needs to do on Saturday.

All of this said, how much of a prime time matchup is Friday night? Wow. Beckett, having an up and down season, will want to show that he's going to be something to be dealt with down the stretch, like last year. Joba, in his first start ever in Fenway, will be amped. I'm sure Fenway, and the Red Sox, would like to give him an introduction of their own. Atmosphere will be electric. That's a great spot for both pitchers, both teams, and both fan bases.

Hopefully DV will be able to post on the series from a Boston point of view before it gets started. Enjoy the games. Go Yankees.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Winning Is Not New, But It Will Need To Continue

Derek Jeter said it best after Monday's win, when asked why the Yankees were suddenly playing so well. He replied by saying the Yankees playing well isn't sudden, and that they've been winning for a while now. He's right. It's now July 23rd. Since May 20th, just over two months ago, the Yankees are 36-20. That's a .643 winning percentage, for those keeping score. Of course, this recent six game winning streak has been huge. But at the All-Star Break, they were playing exactly .600 baseball over their last 50 games, which is what where you want to be. So Jeter is right on point, this isn't a new thing.

But the winning will have to continue. Unlike recent years, the Yankees aren't in major catch up mode, which is good. They are right in the thick of both the division and wild card races. With 61 games to play, if they went 34-27, it would get them to 90 wins. That's playing .557 baseball. I think we can all agree the Yankees are capable of that, and then some. This is not to say that they will, because as this title says, they'll need to keep it up. The division is more competitive than it has ever been, they have some serious head to heads left with the Rays, Red Sox, and (gulp) TEN with their nemesis, the Anaheim Angels, and, unlike other teams with injuries, are unlikely to get the return of three key players. However, it is just to say what I said above, that the Yankees don't have to play ridiculous baseball to reach October, like in years past. They just have to play well.

Pretty much everyone, including everyone here at HYD, has identified the three keys to the Yankees continuing to play well, the three things that will determine if they do in fact reach October. They are 1) Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano, 2) Mike Mussina, and 3) the bullpen. DV asked a great question yesterday, wondering where people stood on each, and the likelihood of them either making contributions, or sustaining their contribution level down the stretch. I'd like to take a look at where I am on each, in the order of contributions/sustainability of contributions I see over the final 9.5 weeks of this season.

1) DV has asked a few times in the last few days when Jeter and Cano are going to start playing, or stop being automatic outs. I don't expect him to be all over this, as he is not a Yankees fan and is extremely busy at the Sox AA Affiliate. However, Jeter and Cano, like the Yankees, have been producing for quite some time now. After batting .151 in April, Cano hit .295 in May, .287 in June, and 17 games in, is batting .358 in July. No, May and June weren't great, but they weren't that far off his career line. Now July has been outstanding. So Cano's season line is being held down by a putrid April. But April and season lines don't matter now. Cano is batting over .300 since May 1st, and is now absolutely sticking. He's been hitting for a long time, so it's not unrealistic to think he'll keep it up. Jeter's been a bit more consistently average, but he saw his production plummet since being hit in the wrist on May 20th (as Bronx pointed out in a recent comments section), and since hitting rock bottom mid-June has been on the steady incline. As frustrating as he's been at times, I'm not about to start betting against Derek Jeter either, especially when the Yankees need him most. He's never disappeared before, and he'll have to do it once before I start saying he will disappear now. Basically, these are two guys with a long track record of producing with the bat, who also happen to be playing very well of late. This is not to say they will produce down the stretch, but they are no more or less likely to over or under produce than anyone else, on any team. I have confidence in them. A lot.

2) If Mike Mussina was having this success pitching the way he pitched prior to this year, or with poor peripherals, or by simply getting lucky, I'd be on the edge of my seat every start. But he's a new pitcher. In fact, a completely different pitcher, and should be viewed as such. We've talked about this before. Once a power pitcher, he's accepted, for perhaps the first time, that he no longer is. He is now relying on location and movement, which aren't bad things to rely on when you have the type of location and movement he's gotten this year. And the results, both overall and in terms of peripherals, have been dominant. He's 13-6 with a 3.23. Great, excellent, some of the best in baseball. Now check these out. He's currently struck out 81 to only 16 walks in 21 starts. That's good for a 5.06 K/BB, best of his career, and Mike Mussina has had a pretty friggin good career. A flyball pitcher, he also has a 1.38 G/F, fourth best of his career, and he now throws 6-8 MPH slower than he used to, making this stat all the more telling about the swings he's inducing. Of course, he's 39 years old and the risk of him wearing down or getting injured is there. But it's also there for everyone. If Mussina can take the mound healthy, I am confident he can continue to produce. Maybe not like he is now, but close enough. And I think he can do it for a few more years, and I hope he does it in pinstripes, just like Bronx. And if he does experience a falloff, he already has 13 friggin wins. If healthy, he'll probably get what, 11-12 more starts? If he wins 2-4 of those, he'll have 15-17 wins. Can we possibly ask for any more than that?

3) The bullpen. The biggest bright spot on the team this season, producing a disgusting 1.60 ERA (before Hawkins' run today) over the last month. Just stupid. Of the three, definitely the most likely not to sutatain current production the rest of the way, and this is mostly because of how insanely good they have been. However, because of the nature of a bullpen, this regression is the most likely to hurt the Yankees of their three areas of import. Rivera is probably going to blow a save at some point, which could mean a loss or losses. Others could go through a rough patch or give up runs in untimely spots, which could mean losses. As crazy as it sounds, these are things the bullpen just has not been doing, and it's the biggest reason the Yankees are where they are. However, the bullpens' two biggest strengths are depth and the fact that Joe Girardi's best managerial quality is his management of this depth. So even if one or two guys aren't as good as they are pitching, I think their depth can get them through. And I mean this. Veras, Farnsworth, and Ramirez have done nothing all year to say they aren't trustworthy. David Robertson hasn't come with the hype that Joba did last year because he doesn't have ace potential, doesn't throw 100, and doesn't have a name Pink Hats love. But this is a filthy 23 year old who closed for Alabama in the SEC, putting up silly numbers in his first month in the majors. Solid fastball and a bigtime plus noes to toes hammer. 14 strikeouts in his first 11.1, against only 7 hits and 4 walks with a 1.59 ERA is serious. He may not have ace potential, but he does have set up potential. And Bruney is maybe a day away. So, with five trustworth guys, it is unlikely that ALL of them will implode at once down the stretch, which is a big safety net to have, not relying on just 1-2 guys (because 1-2 guys could blow up at once, just look at, um, I forget which team). However, all of this depth only matters if Mariano continues to be Mariano. I'm not saying he can't blow saves. It's expected. But he can't blow too many. And he needs to keep holding tie games late, giving the Yankees two big chances to win. This is a lot to ask. The Yankees are going to be in a tight playoff race. Obviously, he has been the biggest part of the team's biggest strength. The team cannot afford for him to regress too far (again, a little bit is expected). Nobody is Mariano, and therefore nobody can make up for him not being Mariano. However, I'm not betting against him either. Like Mussina, if he stays healthy, I feel confident.

Basically, I feel pretty good about these three key issues. The last six days have definitely done a lot to bolster my confidence, too. My main thing is that I don't think the Yankees can afford to have anything else happen, and I sort of started alluding to this with Rivera. No more injuries. No major production falloffs. They need things to go right the rest of the way. And this is a tough spot to be in, with not a lot, if any wiggle room. Really, they could use to get a solid thrown their way (Wang), the division and wild card are that tough. But even if that doesn't happen, they just can't have anything else go wrong. And again, so many things can happen in baseball that this is a tough spot to be in. Hopefully it's a non-issue.

Also, nice timing for my "Should The Yankees Sell Post". Real nice. That looks ridiculous now.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Same block, same Drew, same part, same green, I guess we got the same dreams

Or is it the same nightmares?

While talking to Pat yesterday, he alerted me about how, if you take out June, you have the same Nancy Drew as last year. Now, before you call me on it, I know how unfair that is. Saying that Nancy has been terrible this year would be like saying that Lugo WASN'T terrible last year because he was at least above the Mendoza line (but not by much) in the other five months of the season. A month is a pretty significant part of the season. Just ask the Colorado Rockies. Or the Oakland A's. Or the New York Mets.

It is, however, notable to see how incredibly similar Nancy's non-June numbers were to his abnormally-crappy (or so they say) 2007 season. The numbers really are bad. But then, you see the numbers from June and you fully appreciate how good they were. NJ is "non-June." "NJ552" is the non-June numbers prorated to 522 plate appearances, which is how many he had in 2007. "WGB" is weak ground balls to the right side.

-----------PA--AB----H--XBH--HR--RBI--BB--K--GIDP--TB--WGB--SLG--BA
June----117--92--31--21----12---27--21--15---0----78---12---.848--.337
NJ------238--201--54--17---5----28--34--49--10----78---42---.388--.269
2007---552--466--126--45--11---64--79--100-12--197--102--.423--.270
NJ 552-552--466--125--39--12---65--79--114--23--181---98---.388--.269
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Wow. Just wow. We're within one hit, one home run, one RBI, one walk, and one point in batting average from the (allegedly) horrific, excuse-ridden 2007 campaign for the $70 million man. Though he's on pace for fewer weak ground balls to the right side, he's grounded into a lot of double plays including three in the last four games. He's walking at the same rate, but is striking out a lot more, and isn't hitting as many extra-base hits. Which brings me to my second point:

Nancy has 55% of his extra-base hits in 33% of his plate appearances. In those same 33% of PAs he's accumulated 71% of his home runs, 48% of his RBIs, 50% of his total bases, only 23% of his strikeouts, and (obviously) 0% of his double plays.

That's a good friggin month, and it reminds me a little bit of the "Lorenz Curve Red Sox" phenomenon of last year. I mean, we saw this last month that Nancy Drew is capable of not being the second-biggest underachiever in Major League Baseball (behind Robinson Cano). It would be nice, however, if he could be more consistent than Brian Daubach.

It's Why We Watch (Volume 11)

I would not believe you if you told me I would be saying this overarching statement:

Though the Red Sox have a lot of problems, having Jon Lester on the mound really helps me forget them.

1. And that is true. Another day of the Red Sox going 1-8 with runners in scoring position, and another day with only one extra-base hit (and it came from the bat of Varihorn, which is so shocking I can't believe I slept through it). But Lester pitched very, very well both before I fell asleep and also on the highlights I saw. As we approach the two-month anniversary of his last loss (May 25), it's safe to say that Lester is a totally new pitcher right now from what he was even in April.

Not only are we talking about better performance, but you can plainly see more confidence in his pitches, better command of each pitch, and (you don't fully appreciate it unless you either work for a baseball team or you watch Matsuzaka pitch every five days--or both) his pace. He's just firing the ball, getting it back, and firing it again. And with the lively pace, he's performing so much better. Getting into a rhythm, if you will. It's all coming together.

2. Moving 46 out of the leadoff spot until he starts getting hits? Makes sense to me. Francona had moderate success doing this with other hitters (especially Lugo--no sarcasm) last year. Maybe at the bottom of the order 46 will stop trying to hit like Nomar, swinging at bad pitches and showing absolutely none of the plate patience that made him such a favorite of the Red Sox' organization for so long.

3. Five-out save for Papelbon? Not the most ideal situation, but seeing he's the only individual in that bullpen that can protect a four-run lead, it probably makes sense also.

4. I feel like the astronomer Wolf from the movie Deep Impact. I just made such an earth-shattering discovery that I totally am frantic and full of energy about it. Instead of crashing my car because I found a comet that's gonna strike the earth, I'm going to blog about it this afternoon. But wow. Wow.

5. Though Varihorn did hit the huge home run last night, there are some things I have read in the papers today about him and Francona that make me say, "really?" One of them relates directly to the Crikey Game. In honor of my long, lost boy the Ceej, I won't put the words in CAPS, but I'll put them in italics.

From Gordon Edes of the Globe:

How hard is it to get Jason Varitek out of the lineup? He'll play even when he can't see.

Explains his hitting lately. And the same goes for Garret Anderson last year during the playoffs. If you cannot see the ball, you should not be playing. If you are playing, you are hurting the team. If you cannot play, you should not play.

Varitek also is dealing with a hellacious slump, one that has lasted more than a quarter of a season.

Well, he's hit .240 with a .391 slugging percentage and a strikeout every 3.75 at-bats since the beginning of the 2006 season. It is safe to say that the "slump" has lasted about a quarter of his career.

Francona, as quoted by Edes:

"We need him. I believe in him. I will always believe in him. Sometimes when things are going tough, you don't bury him. It would be the easy thing to do, but I don't think it's right."

Grady Little was a hunch guy. Francona is a numbers guy. Here are some numbers: http://www.baseball-reference.com/v/varitja01.shtml. At the time of the Crikey Game, Sean Casey was hitting .371. Three seventy-one. Meanwhile, Varitek is in the midst of a three-year slump.

"There's a reason he's got that captain's 'C' on."

Yes. It was written into his contract.

"I've seen him too many times swing at [and miss] two pitches, then all of a sudden go 400 feet."

I've seen him WAY too many times swing at two pitches, then all of a sudden swing and miss at another. Actually, as we discussed earlier, it's happened every 3.75 at-bats since 2006.

Stay tuned for my number-crunching. It's why we watch.

At Some Point, It May Be Too Much

The news came down yesterday that Posada is back on the DL for the second time this year (and in his career), with labrum and rotator cuff injuries that require surgery. Posada is going to try to rest for two weeks and see if he can come back as a 1B/DH, because catching is out of the question. Seeing as the standard recovery period for shoulder surgery on non-pitchers is 4-6 months, and that Posada's bat is clearly being affected by the injury, having the surgery now, and focusing on missing only one year, not two, is the way to go.

As I understand it, this is not a wear and tear injury, it is something that just happens, be the player 21 or 37, like it did to Posada that one throw in Cleveland in April. A big part of Posada's value is that he can hit better than almost every catcher, and on this contract, you hoped to get that for two years. Considering how far away (Low A) our top two catching prospects are, and the lack of quality catchers out there, it is really important that Posada be able to catch next year. So let's get the surgery now, making four months away the end of November, and six months away the end of January. This leaves an extra month before pitchers and catchers report in case anything goes wrong. I don't see how or where this doesn't make sense.

The good news is that Posada hasn't been a contributor to this team, the injury sapping his ability to hit. So from that standpoint, the Yankees aren't going to immediately feel a loss in production or anything like that. The bad news is that having a switch hitter with a great eye (.364 OBP this year despite .268 AVG and .411 SLG) and a reputation for hitting in the middle of the lineup is better than not having that player, at least given the available replacements. More bad news is that Jose Molina, who is already playing too much, is going to have to play more. He's been the best defensive catcher in baseball, but his batting average is down over his career average, and that's what happens when a catcher used to playing 2-3 times a week is now playing 5-6 times a week. They get tired, and they get exposed. You also run the risk his defense wearing down, and, perhaps more importantly, injury. It already happened earlier in the year when Posada was first injured. This would be devastating.

Speaking of devastating, I just don't know when it's too much. They are without a pitcher with the most wins in baseball the last two years. They have played a majority of the season without 60% of thier Opening Day rotation. Their most reliable non-Joba/Mo reliever on Opening Day has missed all but the first three weeks. Their starting shorstop missed two weeks. Their starting left fielder missed three weeks. Their starting third baseman, their best offensive player, their starting catcher, their second best offensive player, and their designated hitter have all missed upwards of one month, with the last two likely out for the season. The last part, coupled with Wang in a similar situation, proably hurts the most. Posada had the 7th best VORP in baseball last year, position adjustments aside. He had a really good season by corner outfielder standards, let alone the advantage the Yankees get from him catching. Matsui is a pencil in .300/25 HR/100 RBI. Wang is a pencil in upper-teen wins, and is also showing no signs of returning anytime soon. Can anyone really overcome this?

I don't know. The Yankees continue to win, but have been a bit lucky. They are getting the right amount of offense behind the right pitchers each night. If Ponson pitches Saturday or Sunday, the Yankees lose that game. Sidney has battled, turning in another solid, 5.2 inning, 3 run performance. But he also continues to allow 2 baserunners per inning (9 hits, 3 walks last night), and this is going to catch up with him eventually, probalby Sunday night in Boston. It has already caught up to Darrell Rasner (big start tonight, by the way), and you wonder how long the Yankees can continue to keep these two in the rotation and hang out in the pennant race. Really, you wonder, with all these injuries, how long the Yankees can continue to hang out in a pennant race at all?

The answer, if they are going to, is Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and the bullpen. Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano are difference makers offensively that are capable of going on huge streaks. 4 hit games, batting .350 over two months, delivering knockout punch doubles, these are things that both of these players have routinely done in their careers. They had poor first halves by their standards, but were they to have career average, or even better, above career average second halves to balance out the first, it will be the biggest boost this team can get, probably bigger than any trade.

Then you have the bullpen, which has the 6th best ERA in baseball. Mariano Rivera (1.22 ERA), Jose Veras (3.06), Kyle Farnsworth (3.43), Edwar Ramirez (2.48), David Robertson (1.64), and long man Dan Giese (2.70) have all been between absolutely lockdown and completely reliable, especially in big spots. They are about to get Brian Bruney (1.59), back, presumably in place of Latroy Hawkins (5.58). As a team, they've only blown 4 saves all season (Bruney 1, Joba 1, Hawkins 1, and Veras 1). When Bruney gets back, there will be three relievers with an ERA under 2, two more under 3, and 2 more under 3.50. All seven relievers under 3.50? I don't even know who should set up (Robertson?), or what the pecking order should be after that. These numbers are exceptional, and Brian Cashman has finally put together a young, power bullpen who can shorten games. Now the question is, with a lot of injuries, and a few question marks in the rotation, can the biggest rock on the 2008 team keep it up in the pressure of a playoff race?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Just Not That Good

Took a break from watching the friggin weather Sunday night to actually see some of the Red Sox game instead of reading and Gamedaying. This one is one of the most enfuriating of the season, probably behind only the Lugo Game and the Crikey Game. Tim Wakefield pitched very well, and you'd think that with an offense that featured six (6) All-Stars (four that deserved it), two runs through seven innings would be enough. Well, of course, that's considering that 1) those All-Stars can actually hit and 2) the bullpen is trusted enough that Tim Wakefield doesn't have to pitch into the eight.

Neither of those two provisions are true. I'll get to the bullpen, specifically Manny Delcarmen, later. But first, let's go through this lineup. You have to ask yourself, one by one, "is this guy really a scary dude to face?"

Jacoby Ellsbury: No. One for eleven, 5K, GIDP. Great series.
Dustin Pedroia: Yes, because he gets a hit pretty much every time up. Granted, most of them are singles, but he's a pain in the butt.
Nancy Drew: No. Sometimes you might think yes, but then series like this weekend happen. Frequently. Two 4-6-3s. Good job.
Manny Ramirez: No. He hit fastballs in 2005 and 2006. He hits Jack McCormick in 2008. Quit bitching about your contract. Good luck on the open market. Concentrating on getting hits instead of getting money might be a nice way to help your market value, you buffoon.
Mike Lowell: Kind of. This is the grey area.
Kevin Youkilis: Yes. Absolutely.
Coco Crisp: No.
Jason Varitek: No. F no.
Jed Lowrie: No.

Moss and Cash also fall into the "no" category, and so did Lugo. There are two players in the Red Sox lineup that an opposing pitcher might be concerned with. I talked to Pat this afternoon and he agrees: From an opposing fan's perspective it's Pedroia, Youkilis, and maybe Lowell. But when you have six and a half confident outs in the lineup, it's hard to score runs. It's hard to hold leads. It's hard to win games.

And I'm well aware that a lot of these problems (specifically Lowell and also Ellsbury) melt away at Fenway Park. Winning at Fenway Park and losing on the road is not exactly helping the Red Sox much right now. They are tied for the MOST ROAD LOSSES in the American League with last-place Baltimore and last-place Cleveland (in more games, but still). They have more road losses than last-place Seattle. That is embarrassing. You do not deserve to be a playoff team if you have a .396 road winning percentage.

Big ups (sarcastic) to the coaching staff. Let's have Clay Buchholz throw more fastballs. Worked great his last two starts. People suck at spelling his last name, only putting one H in there. Maybe they're putting two too few A's in his first name: ClAAAy BucHHolz.

Speaking of AAA, my dad has been saying this non-stop all season: It's time to put Manny Delcarmen on notice. He's pitching smugly, says my dad, because he no longer has that fear (as described by Buchholz) of "I better get outs or I'm going to Pawtucket." He's sucked at getting outs in big spots, and he's being counted on to get outs in big spots. The worst damn thing he could do is walk people, and that's exactly what he did after the Angels got an out on purpose. Then he gave up a double on a batting practice pitch (disguised as a changeup). Is it really that hard to get the ball over the plate? Is it? Let's quit saying Delcarmen hasn't been that bad this year. His ERA is worse than the league average and his opponents' OBP is .324. Okay if you're a middle reliever. Terrible if you're a setup man.

Good call (no sarcasm here) to Francona. Even though Kotchman is a lefty, Hideki Okajima shouldn't have the ball in any non-Timlin situation. He is awful.

The main point of relievers is to bear down and get outs. This bullpen does not get outs. It gets hits and walks and runs and blown saves and inherited runners scored and losses. Pat's researching the stats, trying to find out the Red Sox' number of save opportunities and blown saves. But it has been piss poor. This team won World Series championships in 2007 and ESPECIALLY in 2004 because of the strength of their bullpen. It is looking more likely, especially after road games, that they are a crappy baseball team because of the weakness of their bullpen.

UPDATE, 3:42 PM, Monday: Pat came through with the stat: The Red Sox have blown sixteen saves in 47 save opportunities. That means MORE THAN one out of every three small leads in the late innings evaporates because these guys suck at their jobs. This does not happen with playoff teams.

Weekend Recap

I know DV will have some good things to say this week, but he has to run tomorrow morning and David Ortiz is coming to town, so I'll do my best to get your work week started with something of relevance.

I have criticized Joe Girardi quite a bit this season, but that doesn't mean I won't give credit where and when credit is due (after all, I do want him to be a good manager). Good job reshuffling the lineup to get the best players, in a row, at the top, while Damon is still out. Melky has stunk, and Gardner is not ready to shoulder leading off. Going Jeter, Abreu, Rodriguez, Giambi, Posada/Cano from the top just seemed to give us a little more presence, instead of leading off the game with an automatic out. We scored a run or got a runner into scoring position in every first inning on the weekend, and that's big. Score first and tack on is an approach I really like. The team was still atrocious with RISP on Saturday and Sunday, but at least they were attacking and threatening. If we attack and threaten enough, something we were not doing since Damon's injury, eventually I have to think people are going to hit with RISP. A lot of the attacking and threatening had to do, in my opinion, with the lineup adjustment. Good job by Girardi.

Now just take it one step further. Bat Robinson Cano higher in the order, preferably third. My main man is batting .350 since June 14th (it's now July 21st) and that's before a 2 for 4 today. He's a career .343 hitter in games 82-162 over his first three seasons. I know he doesn't walk, but who cares. I think what had him all screwed up the first two months was trying to walk. Some guys are just free swingers. When you free swing and bat .260, that's a problem. He free swung his first three years and hit .297, .342, and .306. This is not a problem, at least for me. He just hits. With Damon and Jeter on base quite a bit, having someone right behind them who wants to hit, and gets a lot of them, could be a really good thing. He's been sticking for well over a month, and all he has done is stick for most of his career. Let's get him sticking with more RBI opportunities. It's not like we are scoring a lot of runs and don't want to mess with anything. Plus, he strikes me as the kind of player who thrives the more he's relied upon. He might go to another level if he knew he was going to be batting in a key spot in the order every night.

Oh, and maybe just one more thing. I'm sure Bobby Meacham is a nice guy, and a good coach. But he can't coach third base. And I'm not just flapping or whining because he had a terrible weekend. He's been awful all year. And this weekend he allowed the same EXACT situation to go wrong twice, which is inexcusable. Friday night, A-Rod on second, two outs, Cano hits a rocket one hopper to right. Meacham waves A-Rod, out by 10 feet. Sunday, A-Rod on second, two outs, Cano hits a rocket one hopper to right, Meacham waves A-Rod, out by 10 feet. If you can't figure that one out the second time in the same series, with ALL of the same players and circumstances involved, what can you do? Plus, there's this guy, born and raised in Brooklyn, career Yankee, good second baseman, long time third base and bench coach in the Bronx, and recently out of a job. Might he be interested? Would be a HUGE upgrade for the Yankees.

Finally, it looks like Brian Bruney, who was poised to be our set-up man when Joba went to the rotation, is about a week away. That will give what has been an outstanding bullpen another quality arm, assuming he's somewhere near what he was pre-injury. Robertson, Ramirez, Farnsworth, Veras, and Mo have been outstanding, and I hope they are able to sustain. If they do, adding another quality arm would give them six guys you really trust. They are shortening games in a big way, and this is a plus no matter what. But if Rasner and Ponson are still in the rotation come August/September, in a playoff race, this is really showtime that there is this much depth and quality in the bullpen, because they'll need it. Absolutely imperative.

On that note, this is officially what we have: a playoff race. One week before the All-Star Break, the Yankees were nine back of Tampa and six of Boston, on the loss side. Now they are five back of Tampa and two back of Boston, and this ground was made up in 11 games. Of course, this is an optimal time to be pointing this out from a Yankee standpoint due to this weekend's occurrences. There will be more ups and downs for all of the clubs. But there are 10 weeks to go, and it is now legitimate scoreboard watching times, especially in the East. There are going to be some big head to head games played between these three teams down the stretch, both for the Division and the Wild Card. This is baseball at it's best. Next weekend in Fenway Park is the first such series. I'll be in the house on Saturday. Anyway we can push this puppy back a few weeks to mid-August, and turn it into a five gamer?

Enjoy the great baseball coming your way.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Rare Bad Spot by Peter Gammons

First, an aside. This is a plug for ESPN Insider. It is worth shelling out the money. Or at least worth mooching off of a friend's account. I was (and still am) pretty mad when they switched Peter Gammons's blog to subscriber only, and if you read this whole post and don't have a subscription, you'll probably feel the same way. The article I will be referring to is available here, but only by subscription.

Gammons gives another account of the Josh Hamilton Story, and he nailed it pretty well. For all the disheartening stories we're hearing right now (both in and out of sports--he mentions the economy and the steroid scandal), the story of Hamilton making a long streak of good decisions after obviously making a long streak of terrible decisions is a nice story and it provides a distraction for the real world. That's fine, no problem. I also have no problem with the Steve Buckley/Jeff Allison reference (though some of my friends who went to high school with him might have a problem with yet another drug-related story about the kid).

What I do have a BIG problem with is his mention of Rick Ankiel as a similar miraculous comeback. That was a good story, as I wrote in the hours before his name surfaced in HGH shipment allegations. The Rick Ankiel Story is not a miraculous comeback story of someone who lost it and through grit and determination found a new way to perform at the top level. It is now a tainted comeback of someone who lost it and through fake prescriptions from a dentist and his own name in illegal drug shipment records found a new way to perform at the top level. Good for you, Rick Ankiel. You are a courageous cheater and felon. Way to go.

What is really miraculous about the Ankiel story is the fact that he got a total "get out of jail free" card. The entire Signature Pharmacy scandal got swept under the rug when the Mitchell Report hit. Moreso, the media was too caught up in the comeback story to want to admit it's tainted. I guess unless it comes to Roger Clemens and his girlfriends, the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball doesn't sell papers. And now the steroid part of the Ankiel story is not even mentioned! At least BALCO is commonly used when Jason Giambi's doing something.

The Gammons article did not mention what was discovered in September. Ankiel admitted in September that the HGH was to recover from an elbow injury, the same kind of excuse Pettitte and Harrison used. "I'm on the same playing level that everybody else is on." Really? What about the other people with elbow injuries and aren't taking illegal drugs? Are you on the same level as them?

But no. No mention of the non-analytical evidence that should have had Ankiel suspended. No mention of the fact that he's been associated with the juice. But only grouping him together with Hamilton, who came back because he STOPPED using illegal drugs.

Friday, July 18, 2008

2008 Mid-Season Report: Boston Red Sox

I wish I could just type up the conversation I had with Pat on Wednesday while we went over the first half, the second half, both of our teams, and Joe Girardi. It would also offer all there is to offer about the Red Sox' hopes for the second half of the season. There are so many things to cover, and even though there won't be many readers on a Friday night (congratulations for having lives), I hope it can hold your attention at least for a bit.

It is difficult to evaluate if the Red Sox are playing to potential. I'm not saying that in a snide way. It really is. The problems some Red Sox fans anticipated would have included Lester's control and starting rotation stability, Dustin Pedroia having trouble replicating last year's success, Ellsbury not being ready for the majors, Lugo playing like he did last year, and Nancy playing like he did last year.

Well, those things didn't happen. Lester's been the most effective member on the pitching staff. Pedroia hasn't made an out in over a month. Youkilis, as Pat said, could quietly receive MVP votes. Same with Nancy, except his effectiveness has been a lot more conspicuous. Lugo has been terrible defensively, but he's played like at least a major league baseball player at the plate. Casey, despite being hurt for a while, has been terrific.

The problems for the Red Sox have been different from what was expected. Lowell went down. Manny's been largely ineffective and, simply put, a jerk. Not good for a guy in a contract year. Ortiz sucked in April, then went down. Coco, Nancy, and Ellsbury have had their own varieties of minor injuries. And Varitek, also in a contract year, is among the worst baseball players on the planet. Oh. And the bullpen, previously thought as a bright spot, has been absolutely atrocious.

There have been a lot of surprises this year, some good and some bad. Do they wash? Not sure. Maybe the commenters who have no lives on a Saturday afternoon can evaluate that.

Going forward for the Red Sox this year, it's going to be a very exciting and interesting journey. There are so many mysteries waiting to be solved, and the discovery of these answers will determine whether the 2008 team is a World Series contender, a playoff contender, or a disappointment that overachieved in the first half. The mysteries waiting to be solved include the following:

>Whether Ortiz can come back and be a huge impact player.
>Whether Manny can stop running himself out of town.
>Whether Youkilis can keep it up for a whole season.
>Whether Casey can step in for Youkilis if he can't.
>How many games can Timlin blow in the second half?
>How low does Varitek's batting average have to fall before he can be criticized in Boston? Lower than .218.
>Can Masterson save the bullpen?
>Can Matsuzaka get the ball over the plate?
>Do the Red Sox need to acquire somebody, making 2008 a "now year?" And is Theo Epstein willing to do such a thing (I'd say probably not on the second one)?
>Can Jed Lowrie play to such a level that he deserves Lugo's job?
>Unfamiliar with the reserve clause, which has remained more or less the same since 1972, will Jonathan "Curt Flood" Papelbon hold out for more money in the middle of the season?
>Will Coco stop pouting?
>Will the team win on the road? They must.

The biggest mystery, of course, is the Mystery of the $70 Million Contract. "Who Is JD Drew?" is a more-asked question than "Who Is Mike Jones?" at this point. We know, we know. He's an enigma, sometimes he's hot, sometimes he puts up seasons like 2002 and 2007. He has great mechanics, a great swing. His desire to play baseball is not always there (even the most flattering article about him said he was only a baseball player "by trade").

I wrote several times last year and this year that J.D. Drew playing well is the biggest key to the Red Sox' success. Like Johnny Damon and the Yankees, when he hit, they just happened to win. When he grounded into two 3-1s, a 4-6-3, and struck out, they lost. This year, despite all of the other unfortunate events, Drew has hit and the Red Sox have enjoyed enough success to get them into first place. He might be the MVP of this team this year, and as weird as it looks to you to read me writing that, just think how weird it feels to say it.

So here's the biggest thing for the Red Sox going forward. If Drew hits, they win. If Drew does not hit, they do not. Should be a fun chapter in Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the $70 Million Contract.

Should The Yankees Sell?

I'm about to go for a leisurely, non-DV like, non-Bandi and PF while college athletes like, 5 mile run on the beach. And while I'm on this run, I'm going to do what I always do when running...think about the Yankees. And my guess is that today all I'm going to be able to think about is all I have been able to think about for the last few days relative to this team, an idea I first had probably a month ago. And since after this run I want to go sit on the beach, listen to WFAN, and read The Post, not sit at the computer, I want to talk briefly about this idea now.

Should the Yankees sell?

I'm not sure.

There are good arguments on both sides. At 5 games out of the playoffs with 67 games to play, the Yankees aren't remotely close to out of it. They could get healthy, particularly Johnny Damon, add a bat and/or mid-level starting pitcher, and most importantly, start to hit. They could play a little over .600 baseball, win 90 games (or more), and make the playoffs. They were in worse shape at this exact time last year, and won 94 games, which was well in excess of the Wild Card. Of course, this year the AL, particularly the East, is more competitive. While that makes a run like last year, and 94 wins for this team unlikely, it is also unlikely that it will take 94 wins to win the Wild Card, meaning the Yankees don't have to go as crazy as they did last year (when I suppose they didn't need to either). You also have the issue of this being the Yankees, and the whole the Yankees don't sacrifice seasons mantra. To that end, it isn't like this is a bad team. This is a very talented team that, like most Yankee teams of the past few years, has been very injured and very inconsistent in the first half. It is a team that definitely, absolutely, COULD make the playoffs.

But, what if this is just THAT year? Too many injuries, too many underperformances (something they have been very lucky to avoid in recent years), too many young guys that either aren't ready or are in a transition season, and all of this with a new manager. And, most importantly, you have Tampa Bay. If Tampa Bay is the Tampa Bay of every year since their inception, I'm not writing this post and you're not reading it. And that is because, just like last year, the Yankees are making the playoffs, no questions asked. However, not only is Tampa Bay not that Tampa Bay, they are really good, meaning the Yankees can't beat up on them, AND they are sticking around in the playoff hunt. With all of this coming together, it could be THAT year. It's going to happen sometime.

And if that sometime is now, why waste it? Why push and push and push without 60% of your Opening Day rotation for almost the entire season, which maybe even the Yankees can't overcome (I mean come on, who can really overcome that? It's amazing they have 50 wins), win 86 games, miss the playoffs, and not get a thing for it? Why not sell?

Some would probably argue the Yankees won't do this for a number of reasons, none greater than it is highly unlikely they wouldn't be in the mix in the final weeks of the season. They'll have a chance, even if it is a long one, in mid September to win some big games and get in. They are, at worst, a pretty good regular season team. If you took this same Yankee team, with Alex Rodriguez and Joba Chamberlain and Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, and put them in Baltimore Orioles uniforms, people would be talking about "don't sleep on the Orioles, they are right in this thing". But since it is the Yankees we tend to look at it and say "this is the year they don't make it". And that's wrong.

But still, there is a chance they don't, maybe even a good one. And even if they do, is this really a World Series contender? Maybe, and I believe everyone is once they get to the playoffs. Important to note, Joba could be a difference maker at the top of the rotation in a series, something they haven't had since 2003. But if I was betting, I wouldn't bet on them to win it all.

And with all of this said, especially the last paragraph, I go back to my initial question: Why not sell? While other people would argue the Yankees shouldn't sell because they are good, I would argue that's exactly why they should sell. They are good. They are going to be good again next year. So, with some attractive and movable pieces (some of which could be re-attained this off-season), why not use this year's good team to try to make next year's team, and beyond, great?

There are teams, especially in the National League, that would love to have Mike Mussina right now. The way Kyle Farnsworth is pitching, ditto. I'm sure he has a no-trade, and would almost certainly be unwilling because of his roots, but you could throw Andy Pettitte in there too. For teams that need a bat, how does 15 homers and 50 RBI over the last 70 games sound? Probably pretty good. Giambi could give that to you. He's not a huge bat, but there are teams that would give something for Bobby Abreu, especially if the Yankees were willing to eat some cash. This applies to all of these guys. And I know the Yankees would eat some cash to get good prospects in return.

And, the beautiful thing about all of these guys, you can have them all back next year if you want them. Mike Mussina wants a ring. Ditto Jason Giambi. I'm sure all of these guys do. Do you think, if the Yankees went to Mike Mussina or Jason Giambi, and said they were going to trade them for a player that was really going to help next year's club, and bring them back in the off-season, that they would object? I'm sure their competitive juices would want to finish the job this year with their team. But if the Yankees have made the decision to mail in 2008 for the benefit of 2009, I'm pretty sure they would go along. I'm also pretty sure they wouldn't turn down the eight figures the Yankees are going to offer both of them in a few months. But maybe I'm wrong, and if so, I can accept that.

Personally, I don't know. My competitive juices say I don't want to sit around twiddling my thumbs in October for the first time in my baseball fan life. I know I always say if the Yankees don't win it, I don't care who does. And this is true, and includes the Red Sox. But if the Mets are going to make the playoffs, and the Yankees miss, I really don't want to deal with that all winter. The Mets have the most annoying fan base in all of sports, and will treat a playoff appearance, especially coupled with a Yankees' miss, like they won 10 World Series at once. They have a very big inferiority complex, and treat every small victory (Reyes having a .001 higher batting average than Jeter at a given time, for example) like it's a reason to call their Yankee fan buddies. And the Yankee fan does not care about the Mets, which makes it even worse. They will literally act like they are the Giants, and that they have defeated the Patriots (the New York Yankees). That's how they think about things. I need to stop. My head is spinning just thinking about this.

On the other hand, there is something ticking in me that just says, "this is a good idea". Trade Mike Mussina for a really good AAA corner outfielder that is almost ready. Trade Jason Giambi for someone's best AAA arm. Mike Mussina and Jason Giambi, in 2008, are difference makers. They get lost in the shuffle, in terms of how we think of them, because they get overshadowed by even better players on their own team. But that doesn't mean they aren't really good, especially this year. Mike Mussina could be an NL contender's #1. Heck, he's the Yankees' #1, and this is the AL. Jason Giambi could bat clean-up and win the NL West for whoever gets him, especially because he has shown the ability to play first base every day. As far as 2-3 month rentals go, they aren't THAT much of a downgrade from CC Sabathia. They are a downgrade, but they can still get you a nice package. They can get you a Matt LaPorta. A Matt Laporta in right field to start the 2009 season sounds really, really good to me.

In reality, I probably just wasted a lot of time writing this, and you probably just wasted a lot of time reading this. There is almost a 0% chance that the Yankees would do this. And that's kind of sad. Because there are 22 year olds in NL organizations ripping AA and AAA to shreds, and they would probably look wonderful in pinstripes, turning a good team in 2008 into a great (and hopefully healthy) team in 2009.