Friday, April 30, 2010

Can I Be Your Memory?

Sometimes I start to believe what they all say about Boston sports fans being the smartest sports fans in America. Then days like yesterday happen that remind me that they might, in fact be the dumbest sports fans in the entire world. The popular opinion on sports talk radio right now is that Jason Varitek needs MORE playing time. Tony Massarotti, who has been a Varitek suck-up for a long time, is leading this charge, and he gave a number: He thinks Varitek should be behind the plate ninety (90) times this year. These people must not have any kind of memory. As David Ortiz would say without crediting Jay-Z for coming up with it, "I think I better give you a reminder."

On April 29, 2009, Varitek was hitting .250 with an OPS of .881, four home runs, and only nine strikeouts through nineteen games. Through nine games in 2008 (he has played nine games this year), Varitek was hitting .290 with 2 home runs, an .882 OPS, and nine strikeouts. This was before Varitek started breaking down.

Today is April 30th and Red Sox fans, including their fanboy beat writers, are talking about how Varitek is not hobbling around the clubhouse. Varitek is not walking around with a hundred ice packs on his legs. They think it's because he's in better shape, because he's got something to prove, and they think it's an indicator that Varitek should be playing everyday again. Here's why he's not wearing ice packs.

BECAUSE IT'S FREAKING APRIL AND THE GUY HAS ONLY PLAYED EIGHTY INNINGS BEHIND THE FREAKING PLATE.

Let's pick a number. Let's pick his 50th game. After Varitek's 50th game in 2008, he hit .189. He slugged .301. His OPS was literally .594, for those statheads out there. And this was after JUNE 5TH. In 2009, Varitek hit .195 with a strikeout more than 25% of the time after his 50th game. Oh, do you think it will get better if Varitek is not playing every single day, only playing every other day? I'm glad you asked. Varitek hit .134 after the trading deadline. His OPS was .437. He struck out 33 times in 97 at-bats.

These idiot Red Sox fans need to realize that Jason Varitek has had several Aprils just like this. And if he plays more than fifty games, he's going to become absolutely awful. Just like he did in 2009 and 2008. Do these people even remember the guy striking out three times a game on 40-foot sliders, then walking back to the dugout squinting at the jumbotron, trying to figure out what went wrong? I mean, Massarotti might not be capable of thinking because his Tufts degree would indicate he is smug and has an inferiority complex instead of indicating he is smart. But there are some Red Sox fans who have just completely lost their way.

Want to hate on Martinez's ability to throw guys out? Good. Because Varitek can't throw anyone out either. Want to prevent people from stealing second base? Maybe these run-preventing pitchers can just go ahead and not walk them in the first place. Or, once they steal second, they can just get the batter out.

Jason Varitek no longer is an everyday beer league softball player, nevermind a major league baseball player. If he plays everyday or even every other day, Red Sox fans will be seeing the ice packs by May 25th, and will be seeing the hideous, abominable numbers by June 15th.

They also need to realize that he is not a good game caller. Ask Josh Beckett how awesome his boy was his last two outings.

They are treating the use of this stiff like Sully from Medford treats Bud Lights at the bar. They have a little bit of him behind the plate and get a good feeling about how much they love the f***in' Sox kid. They want more and more and if they're not careful, they're going to be driving home at 1:30 AM with "Kryptonite" by Three Doors Down on full blast, not realizing that swerving down the wide lanes on Playstead Road is only fun until you wrap your car around a tree in the middle of the boulevard.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I Thought You Were Gonna Ask Me (Volume 2)

Red Sox made it back to .500 last night, which is pretty pleasant. They've played pretty well the last week and a half or so. They are still a distant second in this town behind the Bruins, but that's life. A few things I want to talk about, so it's time for a list.

1. Although JD Drew is still a pretty huge disaster, he's looking a lot better at the plate. He's doing things we have not seen him do his entire time in Boston: protecting the plate. In the last few days, the guy who throws the ball in "like he's at a picnic" according to Baseball Tonight has fouled off some borderline pitches and has actually taken some pitches outside the strike zone out the other way. He whacked one of them off the wall. The guy has actually been aggressive, as he should be if he's making $14 million.

2. Bronx, I added Brett Gardner to my fantasy team. Javier Vazquez is a freaking disaster. Can't wait to see him contribute to a division win for the Devil Rays.

3. Really nice to see that Jon Lester realized the regular baseball season is underway. From what I saw last night, he was pretty brilliant. Granted, it helps when your opponent is overaggressive at the plate and strikes out a ton. But he located well and struck out eleven. We had some conversations a few weeks ago about the inefficiency of strikeouts and how the Red Sox pitchers had not been inducing any of these inefficient activities. We're not going to get staggering totals from Lackey, but we will get quite a few from the other four starters on this staff.

4. From the Francona praise department: This year the guy has had balls. It takes balls for him to sit Ortiz and demote Wakefield. But, as he's said in many press conferences, he's just trying to do what's best for the team. Sounds like Belichick, but that's his job. He has some balls for standing up to the two veterans. He gave Ortiz specifically an adequately long leash, and with the long leash, Ortiz did nothing to prove himself. But then again, the idiot said he didn't have anything to prove. In the case of Wakefield, it's understandable that he's pissed off, but he shouldn't be crying.

5. They said on the radio yesterday that it seems like Francona is tired of being asked why he's pinch hitting for Ortiz everyday. I wonder why: It's a dumb-ass question. Why do you think he's pinch hitting for Ortiz? Because Ortiz sucks? Because Ortiz can't hit lefties? Because Lowell can hit ROOGYs better than Ortiz can hit LOOGYs? Do you think it's just because of a hunch? If you're asking why Francona's pinch hitting for Ortiz, you haven't watched enough baseball this year.

6. From the Francona criticism department: Gonna have to bust out the "B-Team" category. No, he really can't control the fact that Darnell McDonald and Billy Hall are playing on the same day. But the decision to sit Papelbon, Bard, and Okajima all on the same night is asinine. I'm completely for extending Buchholz through the eighth inning as long as he's pitching well (which he was last night--it would have been a crime to demote him to the bullpen). But it's a stubborn, irrational thing to do to shut them all down on the same night and leave one-run lead protection to RamRam, who simply has not gotten the job done. It worked out, but that does not make it responsible behavior.

7. Too much Varitek last night. Yes, he is hitting, and no, he is not wearing ice packs all over his legs all day, as reporters have said. However, they might want to realize it's April. If he gets too much playing time, he will be less effective and have the ice packs back on his legs again by August. That defeats the purpose of keeping him fresh so he can crush dingers every time he plays.

8. Sports hernia updates: Cameron has been hitting off a tee and plans to start running this weekend. I went to the batting cages last night, which in retrospect may not have been the best idea. However, I am getting better very slowly. No way I'm going to be running in the next three weeks though.

9. Let's bookend this post by giving credit to one of my non-favorites who is showing up to play again. Billy Koch, I mean, Papelbon, has looked excellent in each of the last two games. Especially two nights ago, he located perfectly, had a little bit of that zip back, and had excellent late movement on his pitches. No more warning track fly outs. No more walks. Maybe this is a new Jonathan Papelbon.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Groundhog Day

I don't enjoy writing the same or similar things over and over. I'm sure you guys don't enjoy reading it. Unfortunately it's pertinent. If Joe Girardi continues to make Yankees games like Groundhog Day I refuse to allow this site to do the same. I'll just stop writing game recaps in some capacity so that we don't have to go through this routine. At the very least we'll try to break the bullpen micromanagement up into a more digestible format.

The Situation: Bottom of the 6th, 2 outs, BASES EMPTY, Yankees leading 2-1.

The Move: Pull starter Phil Hughes, who after a very shaky second inning had retired 11 of the last 12 batters he'd faced and was at 109 pitches, to put in lefty Boone Logan to face lefty Luke Scott.

The Rationale: We can't pretend to understand the inter-workings of Joe Girardi's micromanaging of the bullpen, but we can only assume Hughes was at his pitch limit and more importantly...LEFTY/LEFTY!!!!!1!!!!!

The Result: Girardi gave Logan the one lefty, who Logan walked. Since the next batter was righty Ty Wiggington, clearly you have to go righty/righty with David Robertson. D-Rob hit a batter and gave up 3 hits, allowing Logan's runner and two of his own to score. Yankees go from 2-1 up to 4-2 down before they could get an out.

The Analysis: Hughes was rolling, and was pulled because of pitch count. I'm a big believer in not extending your starters too much, especially early in the season, especially with younger less experienced starters. But with two outs in the 6th, you have to wonder if he can't get one shot to finish it. He doesn't get him, you pull him. The most hysterical part about this is that Girardi will let a starter who doesn't have it go all the way to 110 pitches, and will also cut a starter who has it off at that number too. It's like how you pitch barely matters, you're getting 110 pitches unless you're extremely good or extremely bad. I think you have to toughen up there and let Hughes go the extra few pitches to try and get that last batter. We're not talking about going to 120-125 here, we're talking about 112-115 or so, and maybe as little as 110.

Going lefty/lefty with 2 outs and the bases empty in the SIXTH INNING is absurd. It's absolutely absurd. Let Hughes finish it, or go to your best pitcher since you are going to need a few outs anyway. The players have to execute regardless. Logan should be able to get the one lefty and get you to the 7th with a lead. Robertson should be able to get out of the inning with nothing more than a runner on first base and one out needed. But guess what, when you've only thrown 6 pitches since May 15th (12 days ago), you might not be at your sharpest. You also can't underestimate the impact of coming into a game with the bases empty as opposed to with a runner on first. Something players need to be able to work around, but also a situation the manager doesn't need to unnecessarily create by playing match-ups.

Girardi has now micromanaged the bullpen in 3 of the last 4 games. The Yankees have lost all 3 games, one where they were tied, one where they were down a run, one where they were up a run. Just let your best pitchers pitch, and when a pitcher is in looking good, let him pitch, don't play matchups. There is no reason to get cute when you can just let your best relievers go 1-2 innings.

In a lot of ways Hughes' start tonight was as impressive as his last outing. He didn't have his best stuff, he had almost no location, the umpire was squeezing both pitchers and had a roaming strike zone, and Hughes had a very rocky second inning. But he found a way to settle down and battle through 5.2 innings allowing only 2 hits, 4 walks, and 1 run. As Mike Mussina has said, these are the types of games that decide what kind of pitcher you are going to be, because every pitcher is going to have days where the hitters can't touch them and days when they can't get an out, but the really good ones are going to find a way to pitch well in the middle. Hughes did that today.

The focus and attention to detail that was evident through the first 2.5 weeks of this season has gone completely out the window. Baserunning mistakes, lack of tough at-bats, laziness and mental lapses in the field. It's not acceptable. The Yankees have lost 4 out of 5, but it's not the results as much as the way they've lost that is the frustration. They showed a little something fighting back in the 9th and getting the tying run on third after being 5-2 entering the inning (and I have no idea what Lugo was doing that far up the middle, Rodriguez's ball looked like a sure game-tying single with two outs). They did themselves a solid getting out to a very fast start this year despite a tough schedule. They would do well not to give it away. They need to turn around the level of play, and hopefully the results will come with it.

Part of that is getting Nick Johnson in the lineup. They are a better team with him batting second working counts and getting on base, even when he's not getting hits. It's going to be very annoying if he's not able to play regularly, especially as the season wears on and the games get bigger. Hopefully that is not the case, although his history and need for days off already this season with "back stiffness" is not a good sign considering he almost exclusively DH's, which is not taxing.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Keep It Simple

A great majority of the critiques we hand out to baseball managers pertains to the bullpen. This has as much, if not more, to do with the nature of bullpens than it does with managers themselves. Bullpen pitchers are volatile. Bullpen usage is usually in the later innings with the game on the line. Bullpen decisions give us quick results, and when they don’t work out – which is inevitable given their volatile nature – we are going to criticize the manager. When they do work out we don’t offer nearly as much praise. We all think we know how to manage a bullpen but the reality is it isn’t that easy, and we should remember that when dumping on our managers.

However, I do wonder if many managers would benefit from one simple philosophy: keep it simple. Joe Girardi has, since he arrived with the Yankees, managed a very good bullpen. There record after the 6th inning with a lead under his regime is insane. It’s important to remember that Mariano Rivera is the biggest reason for this, and Girardi has gone to Rivera on plenty of occasions to clean up a mess his bullpen management played a role in creating. Even with this great record in mind, one criticism of Girardi is that he is too cute with his bullpen. Gets way too caught up in matchups and making lots of changes, seemingly losing sight of just going with your best/hottest arms. We saw two examples of that this weekend, and in both instances Girardi would have been better served by keeping it simple.

Friday night against the Angels. 4-4 game heading to the bottom of the 8th. David Robertson had just come on in relief of Burnett in the 7th, getting two outs on a strike ‘em out throw ‘em out, tossing a grand total of 6 pitches. It was April 23rd, and D-Rob had not pitched since April 15th, two Thursdays prior. He looked good in the 7th, and certainly must have established a level of trust in himself for his work in 2009, where he had the second highest K/9 of any pitcher in baseball, trailing only Jonathon Broxton. Having not pitched in a week, only thrown 6 pitches, and in a tie game seemed like a good time to let him go another inning. After all, you don’t know how long a tie game is going to stay tied, so you don’t want to burn one of your better relievers the way you would with a lead. What’s more, he looked good. Any time you change pitchers, you are upping the chance that you are going to run into a reliever that doesn’t have it that day. So when an opportunity presents itself to stick with one that you already know looks good, you should. This was such an opportunity. Girardi instead went to Joba Chamberlain, who after pitching in that same April 15th game, also pitched in three more since. It wasn’t like he was overworked, but this was his third outing in four games, a lot more than D-Rob. Furthermore, Kendry Morales, the second batter of the inning ,was 4/6 off of Joba with a homer career. Small sample for sure, but a sample nonetheless. Morales gave us more of a sample, hitting a two-run homer to seal the game. With a lead, you go to Joba there, because he’s your guy and if he gets beat then he gets beat. But in a tie game you have options, and also don’t want to burn relievers, especially one you already know has it that day. That’s not to say a reliever that has it is never going to get beat, because he will. That’s just still better than running into a guy that doesn’t have it.

Sunday afternoon against the Angels. Bottom of the 7th inning, 5-4 Angles lead. Alfredo Aceves got the first out, and was lifted for Damaso Marte to get the lefty Abreu with nobody on base. It was April 25th, and Ace had not pitched since April 17th, two Saturdays prior. He had gone 1.2 SCORELESS, HITLESS, WALKLESS innings in this game, throwing a modest 15 pitches, 13 for strikes. This is the definition of a reliever having it, and 1.2 innings and 15 pitches for someone like Ace, who last year was routinely (and successfully) employed for 3 or more innings is really nothing. Again, with a lead it is different, you go to your regular late inning routine because that’s when those guys expect to pitch. This is a situation where you are down a run, so you don’t have to go that route. Ace has it, so stick with him. Your down a run, he’s giving your offense a chance to come back, let him keep working. His changeup is one of his most effective pitches, helping him neutralize lefties, and righties have a higher OPS against him for his career than do lefties. He had also just retired a switch-hitter batting lefty to start the inning. So since he’s actually a better pitcher against lefties, do you really need the lefty/lefty match-up to feel comfortable. Granted, Marte dominates lefties. But this goes back to the whole having it vs. not having it thing you have to factor in. Aceves clearly had it. When you make a change you roll the dice. Girardi lost on that yesterday, as Marte did not have it. Walked Abreu, hit Hunter with a pitch, and after retiring Matsui, gave up a 3 run downtown to Morales turning a 1 run game into a 4 run game. When Aceves was rolling – and to get 5 consecutive outs on 15 pitches across three separate innings you pretty much have to be rolling – they should have just let him roll. Having a reliever whose rolling is often going to serve you better than playing matchups.

Keep it simple. Girardi showed how much he is over-thinking things with the Morales at bat. He went from intentionally walk him, throw one pitch, no don’t walk him (now putting Marte in a 1-0 hole to the best hitter on the other team), and once it got to 3-0 not going back and just walking him despite knowing he had the propensity to swing 3-0 to the point where the entire coaching staff was saying and motioning that he’s likely to swing. Yes, Marte has to execute better, but you’re running the risk as a manager that your player isn’t going to execute when you allow him to pitch to a guy 3-0 instead of just walking him when your original instinct was to walk him anyway. Never mind how much this whole ordeal might have shaken Marte’s confidence (“We’re so confident you can get this guy out we are going to order an intentional walk, then once we get you in a 1-0 hole we are actually going to change our mind and have you pitch to him, because again we are just positive you can get him out.”) That was a total circus, and completely embarrassing. Good job by Girardi taking the blame for this after the game (I’m not sure if he really had a choice), but the real point should be that he needs to stop over-thinking things to the point where he is second guessing himself mid at-bat. In fact, he likely never would have been in the situation to over-think that at bat if he had kept it even more simplistic, and just stayed with Aceves. Go with your best guys or your guys who are pitching best for as long as you can with the exception of protecting leads late in games. This will probably serve you better than getting cute, over-thinking things, and playing match-ups more often than not.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Just Not A Good Idea

This weekend I made my first trip to Las Vegas, going with one of our commenters Jason and some of the silent minority who reads but doesn't get caught up in the messageboards. Interesting place. Needless to say, I did not get to watch much of the Boston-Baltimore series. I know about Lugo ending the game on Friday night and then popping up a bunt on Sunday, and I saw JD Drew put together a pretty impressive battle and hit a double off the wall on a pitch that was out of the strike zone (yup, being aggressive and it worked--ain't that a B). I understand the team blew two (2) saves this weekend, bringing the total up to four for the season. They're just short of the 37 blown save pace.

I learned this weekend the answer to a long-debated question in baseball and in professional sports in general. The answer is no, and the question is should there be a professional sports team in Vegas. Granted, I was only there for a grand total of 33 hours, but it gave me enough reason to conclude this. There are three reasons for it:

1. The obvious thing: Gambling. Gambling has been part of sports for over a century, and in some cases it has been a thorn in the side of professional sports. From the Black Sox to Pete Rose to countless point-shaving scandals in the NCAA, gambling has seriously compromised the legitimacy--or perceived legitimacy of high-profile sports. Having a professional sports team so geographically close to obvious sources of conflicts of interest is just asking for trouble. We can probably argue about this until we're blue in the face--and people have. But this is the side of the fence I stand on.

2. It is not sustainable. I am well aware of the fact that Vegas is one of the most quickly growing cities in the United States. Well, if there are indeed so many locals who care about attending ballgames, why is Vegas's AAA baseball team only filling their stadium halfway to its 9,000-person capacity on average? Feel free to blame it on the oldness of the stadium or the geography surrounding it, but I don't buy it. For locals and tourists alike, there are way too many other things to do in this city to spend 3-5 hours at a baseball game. It is what it is.

3. Pacman Jones. He's the most glaring example, but is not the only one. I mean, do we have to talk about how Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, and Charles Barkley always hang out in Vegas and get themselves in trouble either financially or, well, otherwise? How about Antoine Walker? If you're talking about a professional baseball team full of millionaires, many from humble roots, playing 81 games there a week, once again, you're asking for trouble. Pacman, in addition to the making it rain incident in Vegas, has also placed a pretty penny on college football games in the city. That's not far from betting on his own sport. And I feel like Pacman spends less time in Vegas than athletes who will be playing there 81 times a year.

So I think it would be a risk to the sport, a risk to the prospective franchise, and a risk to the players. An interesting idea, but it's not a good idea.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tale of the Tape

Athlete Mike Cameron DV
Position Red Sox CF adidas New England RC 4th runner
Sports Hernia Diagnosis April 20, 2010 April 20, 2010
Beginning of Symptoms March 2010 November 2009, possibly 2007
Misdiagnoses 2 2
Notable Previous Success That Will Likely End Up On Their Gravestone 4 HRs in one game, May 2, 2002 24th in Boston Marathon, 2008
Documented Source of Success “self-confidence, open-mindedness, and teamwork” balls, hard work, willpower, disdain for competitors
Notable Failure w/ Injury Center Field, 1st Inning, April 16 Chevron Houston Marathon, January 17
Pain Comparison Getting shot Having your leg fall off
Recovery Impediment(s) Age, “stubbornness,” playing hurt for a month Reluctance to lose fitness or miss any time with injuries because that’s what JD Drew does
Temporary Factor to Delay Downtime Blaming pain on kidney stones Popping 8 ibuprofens a day for last 6 weeks
Recovery drink of choice Leaded” coffee Mountain Dew Livewire
Replacements Billy Hall, Darnell McDonald Mike Bunker, Jon Healey
Surgery? Trying to avoid…for now Trying to avoid…for now
DL Minimum 15 days 42 days

Obviously, if I’m actually talking about running twice in one week, it’s been a pretty rough week for me.  I am not a Mike Cameron fan due to his repeat offenses for drug violations, but it is nice to know that someone else is fighting the same fight at the very same time.  I am probably learning more about my injury now by reading Cameron articles than I did after two months of reading stuff on blogs and WebMD.  Then again, WebMD doesn’t have any credibility because it doesn’t have sore glove hand listed as a legitimate medical condition.

Tonight’s loss was not at all surprising.  Shut down by a former middle reliever and a very good performance by a starting pitcher.  VMart is a GIDP machine, Bigelow Green Tea was advertised on television, and the run prevention defense faltered again.  Conversely, last night was a good, well-fought game.  Last night, as Pat mentioned, indicated that this team very well might not suck this year.  However, then they mail it in during tonight’s game.

Wakefield out of the rotation is the best thing for the team.

Young Pitching

Ironically, before Hughes took a no-hitter into the 8th inning and turned in his best performance as a Major League starter, he was going to be part of my analysis on a post more focused on Joba. We'll have to work him in a bit more now.

Joba Chamberlain got the key out of the game Tuesday night. He came in with 2 outs in the 7th, the bases loaded, and the Yankees holding a 7-3 lead to face Oakland's clean-up hitter, Kevin Kouzmanoff, the tying run. He promptly disposed of him in four pitches, trying to check his swing on a nasty slider. Crisis averted. He came back out to pitch a 1-2-3 8th, striking out two more and looking as dominant as he has since perhaps 2007.

I have long been a proponent that any young pitcher that you think has the chance to be a productive starter should be allowed to start until he proves that he can't. Then you send him to the bullpen. I think there is a part of that analysis I have ignored, however. That is the team seeing something about the pitcher to make them believe he can't be a productive starter, or at least a far, far more productive reliever, before he gets the full chance to prove himself in the rotation one way or the other. There are a lot of people in the Yankees' organization that know Joba way better than any of us do. There are also a lot of people in the Yankees' organization that know way more about baseball and pitching than we do. So perhaps they don't need to wait to see exactly what the results are going to be. Maybe they see things that, while not totally conclusive, they think are strongly indicative of a pitcher being a starter or reliever. Not just with Joba, but with any pitcher.

As it pertains to Joba, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the disparity between his pitching out of the bullpen and his pitching out of the rotation. At least since 2008. His stuff is better. He's beyond confident all the way to arrogant, and I don't mind arrogant because it's a level above confidence, and confidence is so critical. After he K'd Kouzmanoff he walked off the mound like it was no biggie. Went right after him in a huge spot. Last year in the rotation he was nibbling no matter what the situation it seemed, at least most of the time. For the first time ever - and I'm still quite hesitant - there is a part of me that is thinking maybe he just belongs in the bullpen. I know there is a lot of conventional wisdom that still says he should get more of a chance to start, and I still agree with that. But as I said, it's becoming harder and harder to ignore what he's doing in the pen.

Regarding that conventional wisdom, what Phil Hughes is doing out of the rotation in this young season is only further proof that Joba should get more of a chance to start. I understand most - including myself and the Yankees, it seems - think Hughes is going to be a better starter long term. But just because one looks like he is going to be better doesn't mean you don't need the other one, who could also be really good. And who knows what happens with another year or two of development. Joba had shown just as many flashes in the rotation as Hughes had prior to this year.

The point is, everyone who wanted to give up on Hughes when he was 21, 22 years old and struggling should drop and do 20 push ups. This is not to say that Hughes is going to be off to the races because of two good starts. It's just to say that you'd have to not be paying attention to see the improvement he's been making over time. He's taken the mentality he learned in the bullpen and applying it in the rotation. That is to say he's being more aggressive, something he needed to work on as a starter. Young pitchers tend to have things to work on. The idea is that they work on them and try to improve upon them. Hughes is doing it in front of our eyes. Joba can as well.

There is definitely the possibility that the Yankees' are letting their preference for Hughes in the rotation impact Joba. If this is accurate - and I have no idea - it should not be the case. It's all about the team, but when developing something as important as pitching, decisions should largely be made separately for each player. I understand everything works together with a roster, but with these two specifically if they can both start the Yankees need both of them to be starters down the line, and one should not be thought of as a reliever because there is a need for the other in the rotation right now. Again, I have no idea if this is the case, the Yankees may just think Joba belongs in the bullpen, and if they see something to make them believe that they are most in the know. At the same time, you can't bring Andy Pettitte back on one year deals forever. You need to develop young starting pitching as much as possible.

Regarding Hughes tonight, he was just awesome. By my count nine of his ten strikeouts were on fastballs or cutters. That goes back to attacking. And he should be attacking because, as everyone says, he has one of those special fastballs that has natural late life, making it tougher get good wood on. His curveball is also outstanding, and when he's that aggressive with his fastball/cutter, mixing the curve in makes him that much better. That was the case tonight. Of course you want to see him keep building from here, and most importantly be able to put together a full, healthy season in the rotation. But he's off to quite a start from which to build. The only way you can describe his demeanor right now is determined. He looked downright furious to not have been able to finish this game himself, which is the attitude you want to see.

The Yankees are now 11-3, have won 6 in a row, and 9 of their last 10. Importantly the starter has picked up the win in each of the last 6 games. When you're turning the rotation over like that you're usually going to be in good shape. Hopefully they can stay healthy and keep it going.

The Red Sox are going to be tough to beat at home, as always. Despite the Tampa Bay series, the last two nights have told us that. Tampa is one of the best teams in baseball, so they are unique anyway. When one of the not best teams in baseball is visiting, the Red Sox are going to dominate. Their roster is built to score there, as we were reminded of the last two nights where they won on walk-off hits from righties that would have been routine pop-ups anywhere else. And that's not a knock, that's how it is. Based on their play at Fenway alone, especially against lesser caliber teams, they are going to be in the hunt. They'll play well enough against the top competition and on the road to live off of beating up on everyone else at Fenway.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Just Hard Enough Not To Get Fired

"That's my only motivation, is not to be hassled. That and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired."
Not now, Lumbergh. JD has a meeting with the Bobs in a couple of minutes. They called him at home. JD was feeling hassled by people unsatisfied with his .133 batting average, his 19 strikeouts that's the second-highest of all AL outfielders, and his 10 weak ground balls to the right side. In order to stop being hassled, he hit a grand slam. Expect a week of production and then a return to the same old JD.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An Awful Lot To Live For

Unlike David Ortiz, I am going to cite the source that I got this title from. Lou Gehrig said that in the "luckiest man" speech. But in response to a comment posted today, I promise that Red Sox fans on this blog will not have me talking about how much the Red Sox suck every other day, then have Pat go Suzyn Waldman on the Yankees the other two days of the week. There are some things the Red Sox can be optimistic about.

For the record, this should count double coming from me tonight. I got diagnosed also today with pretty much the same thing Mike Cameron has. We'll keep an update on my recovery versus his throughout the next, well, probably two months. Without further ado, here are a dozen things Red Sox fans should be thankful for.

1. Today was a big day in the progression of Terry Francona. He decided that after starting 4-9, it was time to lift David Ortiz in the interest of winning ballgames.
2. Ortiz broke his bat over his knee before pouting the rest of the game. This is especially good, because it's the bat's fault Ortiz sucks, and he will no longer be using that bat that made him suck.
3. The PawSox are probably better than the Red Sox, as Darnell McDonald proved today. In all seriousness, it's a nice story. It's like Jonathan Van Every all over again.
4. It only took one month (as opposed to five months for other professional athletes) to diagnose Cameron's sports hernia.
5. Dustin Pedroia. The guy has humongous balls. He basically called out his teammates for not showing up against the Devil Rays this weekend. Somebody's gotta say it, and it sure isn't going to be Francona.
6. Come-from-behind victories. Sox had one today. Granted, it has a lot to do with the Texas bullpen. But as bad as Boston's bullpen is, there are many teams who have it worse. They will just have bigger leads to work with, most likely.
7. Theo Epstein. He's getting the heat he deserves right now, which is good. Nice to see this entire fan base isn't brainwashed.
8. October 2, 2011. We're less than 18 months away from the end of the JD Drew era in Boston.
9. Jason Varitek. I'm actually serious. The guy who doesn't realize it's hockey is actually playing well. Granted, he usually does play like a serviceable major leaguer in April. But he really is being used correctly right now. It probably took a 4 year old in the grocery store/Pat when steroids are the topic level temper tantrum by Josh Beckett, but this usage of this catcher limits his at-bats, gives Martinez a blow that will save his legs for the end of the season, and will probably keep Varitek a lot more effective at the plate than when he was playing everyday. I'm actually okay seeing that stiff play every five days.
10. Josh Reddick got a real number. Greenwell's number!
11. Celtics and Bruins. And the NFL Draft talk finally ends this weekend. Mel Kiper can go into hibernation until next year.
12. The Baltimore Orioles. My boy from Baltimore called me yesterday to talk about his team's performance. Puts everything in perspective.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Early Impressions

1. Since the All-Star Break last year, including the playoffs, the Yankees are 43-10 at home. That also includes the 5-1 first homestand the Yankees just completed last week. They have turned the New Yankee Stadium into their own personal playground. Not only are they build to play there (good pitching and a team with a lot of power to left), but the players have been talking about how - with all of the new amenities - they are spending more time around the park and therefore each other. The genuinely enjoy being at the stadium. While I'm a believer that their talent and composition to play in the park are the biggest factors in this success, enthusiasm for the workplace every day has to help. Now, we might say that anyone should be excited to be able to play baseball every day and get paid lots of money for it. And that's true. But it's all relative. These guys are used to it and having a place that is so modern and has everything they can ever need is a plus, as they have been saying.

2. Mariano Rivera has now converted 50 straight games at home. Incredible. The record for consecutive home saves converted is 51, held by Eric Gagne. Even though it's not a big record, I'd like to see Mariano get it. Not only because I'd like to see him get any accolade he possibly can, but because it shows such amazing consistency. Not easy to pitch in that type of high leverage situation and give it up as infrequently as he does. We've come to expect it at this time, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't consistently appreciate it. My guess is a number of Red Sox fans will atypically be rooting for Rivera here too, just so that Gagne no longer has the record.

3. What has impressed me the most about the Yankees so far is how focused they have been. It's been like this season is just an extension of the 2009 Playoffs. Even in losses they are playing sharp defensive baseball and not giving away at bats. They have a 10 game error-less streak going (longest in the majors, and longest in April history for the Yankees), which is to say they are defending the baseball. They are getting outstanding starting pitching. They are scoring runs. They are pretty much doing it all. I said to my buddies the other day, how are we supposed to even react to a hot start in April? Usually the Yankees are playing lethargic, "we'll turn it on later" baseball at this time of year, with a record to match it. This has been the total opposite. I think that speaks to the culture that has been created with this club, and how energized they are to win every day. It's like they got a taste and don't want to give it up. It really began with Pettitte's Game 3 start in Boston, and everyone else save Vazquez has followed suit, and he's looking to turn it around tomorrow. Pettitte has been good every time out all season, Sabathia and Burnett were excellent after their last two starts, and Hughes had a good first outing. The offense and defense has followed suit. Good job by Pettitte getting it going and everyone else following his lead.

4. Related, it is silly the way this Yankee team makes starting pitchers work. Let's take the weekend series against Texas for example. It took C.J. Wilson 112 pitches to get through 6 innings (5 runs, 3 earned), and that may as well have been a complete game the way the next two starts went for Texas. Scott Feldman used 73 pitches to get through 2.1 innings, where his outing ended after surrendering 4 earned runs. Rich Harden needed 93 pitches to get through 3.2 innings, giving up 4 earned runs. For the three starters, that's 278 pitches in 12 innings/26 outs, or almost 8 pitches an out and over 23 an inning on average. Tough to win games that way, and that's what the Yankees are doing to you right now. This really goes back to being into every at bat, which is so outstanding to see this early in the season. There have been an amazingly low number of frustrating at bats from the Yankees through 12 games, and I'm easily frustrated by weak at bats. My buddies and I were talking the other day about what makes pitchers groan more when they see the Yankees on the schedule: having to face Jeter/Teixeira/Rodriguez/Cano or having to deal with throwing The Nicks (Johnson and Swisher) 30% of your total pitches, even when you're getting them out. It might be the latter. On Saturday through three at bats between the two they were 0-1 with 2 walks off Feldman. It took him 26 pitches to arrive at that result.

5. As I mentioned before the season, I though the respective second baseman for the Yankees and Red Sox were each teams' most important offensive players. Cano because he needed to step up and be the 5 hitter that can replace Matsui. Pedroia because the Red Sox offense needed him to be an impact player like 2008 and not an above average player like 2009. So far both have done so with flying colors. Cano has hit the ball for two weeks as hard as I've ever seen anyone hit a baseball. Certainly to the point where nobody is pitching around Teixeira and Rodriguez to deal with him, which was the concern. Pedroia has been every bit an impact offensive force again. The Yankees aren't winning just because of the way Cano is playing, but he is certainly helping. The concern for the Red Sox is that Pedroia has stepped up in about as big a way as you could possibly ask, and the team is second to last in the majors in runs scored. You would have thought going into the season that if Pedroia could return to near 2008 form, that would maybe be the boost this team needed offensively losing Jason Bay. But right now very few other players are hitting. The other key bats in that lineup need to follow Pedroia's lead the way the Yankees' pitchers followed Pettitte's. It's early, but you don't want to let offensive performance like they are getting from Pedroia fall by the wayside, because all he needs right now is a little bit of help and he'll turn some of the losses into wins. He's just not getting that help for the most part.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

What the F Do You Do At Fort Myers?

This is a serious question. Pitchers and catchers reported to Fort Myers on February 19th. Position players reported on February 22nd. That is two freaking months ago. Everyone on the team theoretically did conditioning, training, complaining about sore shoulders after surgery, and baseball fundamentals for two weeks, then played four freaking weeks of practice games, minor league games, and halves of major league games that didn't count. Therefore, there are some fundamental things that shouldn't be happening, you know, when the games start to count:

-Routine fly balls dropped by outfielders.
-Routine fly balls going over outfielders' heads.
-Third basemen crashing into left fielders on pop-ups.
-Shortstops crashing into left fielders on pop-ups.
-Fast guys trying to stretch routine singles into doubles.
-Slow guys trying to stretch Fenway Park wall-ball singles into doubles.
-Third base coaches waving runners in with no outs and arguably your two hottest hitters up next.
-Catchers throwing the ball into center field.
-Pitchers looking clueless fielding their position and throwing balls in the dirt to first.
-Utility guys looking more uncomfortable in the outfield than Kyle Lohse did this weekend.
-A guy once dubbed the "Next Mickey Mantle" looking like he was facing Saturday's version of Ubaldo Jimenez every single game of the season. The same guy, known for a keen eye, leading the league in strikeouts.
-A top-five lefty in the league not realizing that the baseball season starts on April 4th, not June 4th, year after year after year.

These things are all baseball fundamentals and things that should be resolved before the freaking season starts. It makes me start to wonder what the F these guys do all spring. I've spent enough time in the industry to know that there's more golf than baseball activities during these six weeks, and to know that there is either social or financial discipline (or both) for players working the count in spring training games. And I also know that the media, hungry for stories when there are no stories to be told, gets in the way of some things, especially now with blogs being the norm for most metropolitan newspapers. But after watching the first twelve games in the 2010 Red Sox season, I am wondering if these guys ever work on fundamentals or ever work on preparing themselves for the season. It looks like the mid-1960s country club "Gold Sox" culture again. Wouldn't be a problem if they're winning. But they're 4-8.

Maybe the arrogant general manager is so high on his own perceived brilliance that he thinks his Gold Glove run-prevention defense will take care of itself, like they're fielders on Nintendo baseball in the early 90s who automatically catch everything that comes close to them. Perhaps because of this assumption, he and the over-loyal manager decided that baseball fundamentals were not necessary to spend too much time on this spring. Maybe the arrogant leadoff hitter is so high on his perceived brilliance that he can make completely boneheaded baserunning moves because he has the speed to make up for it. Well, Usain Bolt couldn't have made it to second on that play. Maybe nobody told Adrian Beltre about how things work at Fenway Park, where the wall is close to second base and wall-balls aren't automatic doubles.

These are all things that should not have happened. And if these games ultimately cost the team a playoff spot, the manager and the general manager should both take the fall with their jobs.

Jon Lester needs to wake up and realize that the baseball season is underway, and that these games count as much as the games in September.

Mike Cameron needs to learn how to drink unleaded coffee and have it dawn on him that he was brought in to catch balls that wouldn't be caught by most outfielders, not the other way around. Coco Crisp didn't get a free pass for a kidney stone; why should he?

JD Drew is an absolute embarrassment. He's got a great eye, I've heard. If you have a great eye, you don't lead the league in strikeouts. Theo Epstein should be absolutely ashamed of himself for all of his Drew-pimping he's done, because, as I postulated last week, this is not a new thing. He has been a complete drain on this team for extended stretches multiple times throughout his career here. Yeah, I did the research:

In 2007, he posted the following stretches.
April 24-June 6: 121 PA, 5-101, 0 HR, 20 , 3 GIDP, .487 OPS.
Within this stretch, over 35 plate appearances, he went 3-28, 8 K, 2 GIDP. After 7 hits in 3 days against his brother's team, he went 0 for his next 12 with 3 more K's.
Later in the year, he went 11-65 in 74 PAs, 16K, .503 OPS.
He also went 7-47 in 57 subsequent PAs, 12K, .497 OPS.

In 2008, he had these gems. People only remember June and one at-bat in October.
37 PAs, 4-31, 7 K, 3 GIDP
52 PAs, 6-40, 8K, 3 GIDP
19 PAs, 2-17, 3K in the team's last 42 games, during which he never went on the DL.

In 2009...
26 PAs, 2-22,8K, 3 GIDP
1-16, 1K
57 PAs, 3-47, 18K

I thought you were gonna ask me about that. Is it time to look past the one month, two home runs, and one line on the stat sheet? This guy is a complete disaster.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

It's Not What You Think

School of Hard Knocks, I'm a grad
And the all-blue Yankee is my graduation cap

Oh, wait, that's Jay-Z, too. Come up with some original stuff.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cloudy with an 85% chance of a sore neck


JD doesn't like to play in the rain. Neither do most of the Red Sox, as evidenced by last year's performance in less-than-ideal weather situations.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

You'd Think They'd Know Better

I don't know. This post has gone in three different directions. When it looked like Okajima was going to blow another 3-2 lead Wednesday afternoon, I was going to flip out about how this offense and bullpen are so bad that John Lackey doesn't have enough room for error to give up a freaking hit to Joe Mauer, something that everyone in baseball does. Then when the Sox erupted against the Minnesota bullpen, I was going to say that the results don't lie and that loyal commenter Jason was, at least so far, right about how the offense isn't that bad. Then I was going to talk about today's game, with it being the best day in Matsuzaka's season and it being an embarrassment for the offense, especially for JD Drew, who now has the second-highest...STRIKEOUT total of all AL hitters...behind Big Plagiarizer David Ortiz (can I get a...).

While researching the facts to make this punchline, I came up with my real topic.

And that is that you'd think the arrogant, smarter-than-thou sabermetric number-crunchers in the Red Sox front office would know better than to construct a team like this. I read several years ago that if you look at run expectancy (the average number of runs, on the aggregate, a team can be expected to score in any given situation with runners on and number of outs), the most inefficient thing a hitter can do is strike out. This is not true--if you look at the matrices, a double play is far less productive. But the strikeout never advances any runners, so other than two outs being made at the same time, the easiest way to prevent your team from scoring runs is to strike out. Ground outs advance runners. Fly outs sometimes advance runners. Strikeouts don't unless we're talking about extenuating circumstances.

So the Red Sox put together a team that currently has the top two league leaders in strikeouts. In additon to those two guys, they acquired a former league leader in strikeouts who K's 24% of the time he's up. They've preached this sense of plate patience to their entire organization, so that the team's new leadoff hitter is taking called strike 3's down the middle of the plate twice a game. The current leadoff hitter would NEVER experience an at-bat like Coco Crisp's at-bat in the 2008 ALCS, because the organization has tought him to have either walked or struck out looking on a marginal pitch far before that. Same with JD Drew, which probably goes without saying.

What I'm saying is that this team, its acquisitions, and its philosophies foster widespread strikeouts. And you'd think that the organzation who spends more time on fangraphs.com than my boys (but JD/SABR apologists) Craig and Jack Sox combined would try to cut down on the strikeouts. Maybe this is part of the "run prevention" scheme.

A final thought for the week, and it's relevant because of the two AL league leaders in strikeouts: At some point, Francona has to give up the loyalty garbage and realize that every game, including the ones in April, count. Therefore, he has to throw the best baseball players out there. The best DH is Mike Lowell. And the best right fielder once Number Two and Cameron come back is Jeremy Hermida. I am dead serious about both of those things, and once Francona starts getting serious about winning baseball games, both should be considerations.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Three Series, Three Rubber Games

Winning series is pretty much the key to having a successful regular season. Sure you can go on really hot/cold stretches that might skew your win total relative to series won or lost, but for the most part you are pretty well defined by how many series you do or do not win. A big part of winning series is just playing well. Another big part of it is winning rubber games. Tomorrow the Yankees will be faced with their third such scenario in as many series to open the season.

In baseball, I'm a believer in "it's early", but only to a certain extent. That extent is more big picture. A team off to a hot start can fall off a cliff. A team struggling early can have a great season. Just because those two things are truths, however, doesn't mean the early games don't matter. That's where people lose me on the early stuff. You should want to win tomorrow as much as you'd want to win a rubber game in August. It's not early for winning baseball games, especially when you are looking to set the tone as a team that is going to win rubber games.

It would be nice to see Phil Hughes pitch well. First, to get his legs under him and take pressure off of himself early. Second, so we don't have to revisit the Joba/Hughes debate for the next six months. There's plenty of time for that in the offseason, so we don't need it now.

Taking three straight rubber games against these three teams to start the season would be about as good as could have been expected.

Some DV style points:

- The reception Matsui got yesterday was one of the great sporting moments I've witnessed live. The Yankees nailed that one announcing him last. Before Michael Kay could get, "Now, we have one last ring to present" out of his mouth, the place was going bananas. It was twice as loud as the cheers for anyone else, even the other big ones like Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, Posada, and Rodriguez (which were the next five biggest). I watched it later last night on TV to see what it was like, and it did everything justice but the Matsui presentation. You couldn't tell how much louder the chorus was for him. His teammates surrounding him and hugs all around was hollywood. I'm really going to miss this dude. Good job by the Yankees getting this one right.

- Spinning off of yesterday's comments section, I don't want to get left out of naming my least favorite Red Sox I've seen play. In reverse order:

5. Trot Nixon/Kevin Millar - I get to list them together because they are basically the same player to me. Not very good at baseball, crushed the Yankees. Had facial hair and likely requested to not have uniforms washed, both of which means Red Sox fans liked them way more than they should have. These players seemed to feed off that and conduct themselves in an even more grunt and fart kind of manner as a result. Also had what in my opinion were two of the biggest plays in the 2004 ALCS. Roberts ain't stealing, and Papi ain't a hero, if Millar doesn't walk in Game 4. Papi ain't a hero again if Trot Nixon doesn't make a catch in Game 5 he had little business making, somehow picking a Matsui liner off of his shoelaces after the Yankees had reloaded the bases after Jeter had already cleared them in the same inning to put the Yankees up 4-2. 7-2 and it's probably goodnight. For these two plays alone these guys would make this list.

4. Jason Varitek - No punching people when you have a mask on. It makes me giddy that we have this on a player who likely prides himself on playing hard-nosed baseball. No C's on the uniform unless it's hockey. Especially when you've had about four good seasons

3. Pedro Martinez - One of the best pitchers I've ever had the pleasure of watching, but would be battling for #1 had he not A.) played places after Boston, B.) given us the Whose Your Daddy chant, C.) allowed Posada (of all people) to double in the tying runs in the 8th inning of Game 7 of the 2004 and D.) taken two big fat L's in the 2009 World Series, including the clincher at Yankee Stadium (just too sweet). Mostly just A., but I wanted to get the other three out. I don't dislike Pedro that much until I start thinking about him in a Boston uniform again. While he may not take the top spot, there has never been an athlete I disliked at the height of my dislike the way I did him. There were at least 10 occasions where I was not just screaming at the TV, but pointing my finger at the screen hoping there was a way I could jump through it.

2. Jonathan Papelbon - I don't even want to give him the credit of such a high ranking, but I have to. Even putting all the obnoxiousness aside, seems to have a disconnect from reality regarding his own abilities, and while there is nothing wrong with confidence that's annoying. Also the kind of guy that acts really tough on the field, but you can just see that when push comes to shove he's softer than you know what, and we saw that in Game 3 of the ALDS last year. Might be higher on the list, but I have to give him credit for consistently making a face so scary and intimidating when he pitches that I find myself scared and intimidated watching on TV. Very impressive.

1. Curt Schilling - Tremendous player. Better person. Too much of a drama queen/into the personal spotlight for me. A few weeks after talking about only wanting to go to Philly or New York he was acting like Boston was the only place he'd ever dreamed of playing. I totally understand why he would do this after he was traded to that team instead of another one (I think anyone would), but still annoying. Also was at the forefront of the two toughest sports losses I've ever absorbed ('01/'04 - in that order).

Josh Beckett would make this list if he was a better player. Kevin Youkilis would make this list if he wasn't such a good player.

Report: Arod Cares About Following Rules

So a fluff story in the Post revealed a lot about the Yankees' third baseman. Not only does Arod have a picture of himself as a centaur in his house, love to get up at 6:15 AM to do stairs, party after winning the World Series, kiss himself in the mirror, describe himself as "good looking and biracial," and visit doctors in Canada, but Arod also cares about following rules.

"I would have worn [his new World Series ring] at third [base], but probably would've broken a rule."

I'm glad Arod likes to follow rules so much. Like the rule about not doing steroids that he knowingly broke ("I knew they weren't tic tacs"), the rule about not swatting balls away from pitchers covering first base, and the rule about not yelling "mine" when a third baseman is lining up under a pop-up.

I hope Arod wears his ring to a club and gets mugged afterwards.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Not a Good Flashback

Hey David Ortiz! Wonder if your harsh, unfair treatment is based on an unfairly-small sample size, like seven at-bats? Here's why you're wrong:

Jon Lester.

Two rough to quite-rough outings so far in 2010 for one of the Red Sox' three aces. Not quite as rough as Ortiz's start, but you know what I'm saying. However, nobody (except for the Boston Dirt Dog, who is advocating for Johnny Damon to be the Red Sox' newest starting pitcher when he does his one weekly post) is advocating Lester's demotion. Despite a viable alternative in a pseudo-injured Matsuzaka mowing them down in Pawtucket right now. Why is this?

Because Red Sox fans and experts can look past the two outings alone and see that it's not a problem. Meanwhile, people are freaking out regarding Ortiz because if you look past the rough 2010 start, you see half a year last year. You see his age, his weight. And, oh, you see the fact that his use of vitamins and supplements was irresponsible.

With Lester, we've seen a couple of flashbacks to the 2007 Jon Lester, a guy who doesn't have terrific command of his stuff, misses the strike zone but not so much that he's walking 6-7 guys, and gets worked deep into the count. So we've seen this before, but we have many indications that Lester will rebound from this funk, because he's young, he's had a proven RECENT track record of elite performances, and there is no reason to think these performances were the result of him irresponsibly using vitamins and supplements.

Really, what I'm trying to say is that Ortiz, his apologists (hello Terry Francona and WEEI), and the other people who hold a grudge against Mike Lowell and Jeremy Hermida for their fantasy teams' downfalls need to open their eyes. It's not about the 2010 slow start. It's about a lot more than that.

Other fun stuff:
-Jeremy Hermida's neck is not stiff. Hermida was a first-round pick, so it's very possible that this guy is more than just a bench player. An .870 OPS a few years ago. How many 0-3 games with a strikeout and two weak ground balls to the right side will Drew have to put up before he gets his playing time limited? Hermida, currently 26 and therefore near the prime of his career, probably should not be a bench player on any team in baseball.
-Baseball should not be played outside in Minnesota in April or October. They lucked out yesterday, but it's still irresponsible. Especially if Bud Selig and MLB are willing to work playoff schedules around episodes of So You Think You Can Dance and postpone the end of the season until November.
-Twins are a good freaking baseball team. The rotation is imperfect and the bullpen is suspect, but that team can hit. No wonder Gammons used to have so much wood for this lineup before he stopped hiding the Red Sox affinities. Fast at the top of the order, the best hitter in the league arguably third, boppers in declining order from 4-7, and a weak-hitting infielder at the end of the lineup. Welcome back to 1987! This team is a trade for a pitcher away...or a Liriano revival away...from being a very legitimate World Series contender.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Top 5 List And A World Series Celebration

The toughest opening week you can have if you're the Yankees is at Boston for three and at Tampa for three. The two off days give it a little bit of a different feel, but it's a tough week nonetheless. You would have unequivocally been content with a 3-3 week. But as Joe Girardi said in more words than this - and I love that he's saying this, however obvious it may seem - that the Yankees are not satisfied hanging in, or being even, even on a tough road trip. Fans can be happy with 3-3, the team can't. Spot on. Going 4-2, winning both series, and doing so after losing the first game in each set, however, is something the team and the fans can be happy with. Excellent week.

The week almost went from being a good start to a having a special twist. C.C. Sabathia was throwing a no-no 23 outs into the game. As happens more often than not, it ended up getting broken up. Obviously I was rooting hard for it just as I root hard for every Yankees pitcher who gets close to a perfecto or a no-no. But I had a little extra giddy-up on this root.

For a lot of reasons, some I can explain and some I can't, I just love C.C. Sabathia. I became enthralled with his efforts for the Brewers in the second half of the 2008 season, telling his agent to buzz off so he could pitch on three days rest for a team and a city he had just arrived in. His signing with the Yankees right after that performance had me thinking the Yankees had just acquired as special a player as they had in some time. Before the 2009 season even started, stories like the one Joe Girardi told about the Yankees beating C.C. 1-0 on a Friday night and him being the only player at Progressive Field Saturday morning when Girardi arrived going at in the weight room had me all kinds of fired up. Then he was unbeatable in the second half of 2009 (Yankees were 13-1 and he had a 2.36 ERA in his second half starts prior to that last playoff tune-up vs. Tampa Bay), and then dominated in the playoffs, giving the Yankees the kind of October starts they hadn't gotten since the earlier part of the decade, and doing so on short rest almost half the time no less. There is much else, including the fact that he now wears patent leather Jordan XI cleats (if there is anything in sports Gunn loves close to New England teams, it's Jordan's, so he can appreciate this even from a Yankee I'm sure).

Thinking about all of this during C.C.'s start Saturday, I began thinking about my Top 5 Yankees that I have seen play. Derek Jeter is a no doubter. My favorite athlete of all-time any sport. Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, and Don Mattingly, in no particular order, are also definitely on my list. C.C. Sabathia may very well be in that last spot. He's been here for barely over a year, but he's right there. Just something about the dude. That game when the Yankees were two games under last May and Rivera wasn't available and he went the distance, striking out the side in the 9th to end it emphatically (also the Rodriguez game). I could go on and on. There are others that would be in the mix. Pettitte, Posada, O'Neill, Tino, El Duque. But right now I'd have to say it's C.C. He's also such a good person, he's a pleasure to have this team and watch on a daily basis. I look forward to hopefully being able to do so for many more years. Guy is awesome.

Opening Day tomorrow at Yankee Stadium, and I'll be in the house. Obviously a win is what we are looking for here first and foremost, but the Ring Ceremony should be fun as well. 2009 was such a spectacular season and I'm looking forward to celebrating that again. It will be especially sweet because Matsui will be in the house, which is very fitting. The roof should come off the place when he gets his ring, and I will definitely be doing my part to contribute. Much deserved.

In the meantime, I'd be interested to hear all of your Top 5's of guys who played for your team since you've been a fan.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Doing What They Do Best

It was nice to see the Red Sox pull out the series against Kansas City and their horrendous bullpen. But they did exactly what they have done best for the past several years: Beat the snot out of bad pitching. The team is patient, works walks, and makes the disasters in the KC bullpen throw strikes. Unfortunately strikes for guys like Luis Mendoza and Not-Phil Hughes end up out of the ballpark quite a bit.

If Varitek is launching bombs off of you, you missed big time with your meatball pitch.

So the Red Sox capitalized on the bad pitching as they always do. And sometimes balls friggin fly out of Kauffman Stadium. Unbelievable. This team might be able to capitalize on bad pitching often enough to propel them close to a wild card spot (I still won't hold my breath). Because if you're winning 8-3, not even the Red Sox bullpen can cough up that lead unless weather conditions are less than ideal. It was good work from the bench, good work from Pedroia, who is showing some signs of saying "all aboard my back" again, and even good work from 46, who looked absolutely lost for the majority of this week. As long as he doesn't keep trying to stretch singles hit to outfielders into doubles, he might be okay.

I do think after Pedroia was hit intentionally and Scutaro was hit unintentionally, Ankiel should have been thrown behind. That is part of baseball. I was disappointed that Beckett didn't do that, because the old Beckett (remember when he and Ryan Howard almost fought during spring training a few years ago?) certainly would have. And the teams do not square off until May 27th, so this offense will probably go unretaliated. Not as bad as the Bruins-Penguins incident of a month ago, but still not acceptable. By the way, did anyone see Matt Cooke get ONE SHOT KID'ed this weekend? Worth a YouTube watch.

Buchholz's pitching did not look as sharp as his singing of the creepy Neil Diamond song about an 11-year-old. But he did battle through and for the most part minimized the damage. Gil Meche was a disaster, as the $55 million contract is still holding a solid second place for the worst contract signed in the 06-07 offseason behind Lugo and in front of Drew. Peter Abraham said it pretty well when he said that Jason Kendall playing a day game after a night game says all you need to know about that team's management. I also don't know how you could humanly construct such a bad bullpen. And when you give up six walks to the Red Sox, you will probably lose the baseball game.

I love Ram-Ram, but the home run he gave up was on the biggest meatball I have ever seen him pitch. He is also someone who should have drilled someone, as he had the ball with an 8-3 lead.

Both Beltre and Bill Hall have to realize that the outfielder has the right of way when a pop-up is somewhere in between the infield and the outfield. Run prevention doesn't work when guys are crashing into each other. Bad work on their part. Plus, how much does Nancy hate Beltre right now for KO'ing Number Two and making him play baseball with a neck injury allegedly aggravated by flying on an airplane? And the run prevention is rather absurd on NESN right now, as they make a big deal about the number of errors committed every night. Do you think that was a direct command from the Red Sox' baseball ops personnel?

Anyway, yes, it was the Royals, but it is nice to see the Red Sox win a series. It was nice to see the offense do what they do best and build a lead that not even this bullpen could blow. Will be interesting to see how the run prevention model works against the Twins.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Everybody's Fault But Mine

So good starting pitching, wasted offensive opportunities, and a bullpen who could hold a three-run lead but not a one-run lead led to another blown save and Red Sox loss last night. We had another frustrating home run from Nancy, and by frustrating I mean nobody understands why someone who can launch the ball as far as he can keeps on rolling weak ground balls to the right side.

Another important aspect of last night's game is going to basically inspire an oversized comment to yesterday's post. But Ortiz is really doing his very best efforts to make Red Sox fans not miss him when he signs with the Royals or somebody next year. The way he plays baseball right now sucks, and there is a big divide between the cool Ortiz a few years ago and the new Ortiz who apparently is cranky because he's no longer irresponsible with his use of vitamins and supplements. His reaction after chasing a ball in the dirt for strike three in the sixth inning last night is just another example of the player becoming a complete prima donna who blames all of his problems on everyone else instead of taking personal responsibility for anything. Let's take a look at the other examples:

-David Ortiz is a victim of the umpires, who just hate on him for saying he swung on a pitch in the dirt. It had nothing to do with the fact that he has a deteriorating eye.
-David Ortiz is a victim of the fans and media, because they are judging him on seven at-bats where he looks like he's never played baseball before. Of course, it has nothing to do with the fact that he looks like that, or the fact that he has sucked similarly since, well, 2008.
-David Ortiz is a victim of the fans and media because they are concerned about his performance in meaningless spring training games. It has nothing to do with the fact that he can't even hit minor league pitchers in practice games anymore.
-David Ortiz is a victim of Red Sox management for not acquiring another hitter to protect him in the lineup. David Ortiz doesn't want to do his job himself.
-David Ortiz is a victim of the media who were mean to him after he showed up on a list of steroid users. It has nothing to do with the fact that he stuck a bunch of illegal substances into his body. He deserves an apology, even in the eyes of his manager.
-David Ortiz is a victim of the vitamins and supplements he took in the Dominican Republic. It has nothing to do with the fact that he was actually doing a mountain of steroids.
-David Ortiz is a victim of the players' union for not giving him any answers for why he tested positive for steroids, or telling him that he tested positive. It has nothing to do with the fact that they DID tell him that he was on the list. And Ortiz obviously didn't want to just say which illegal drugs he intentionally took.
-David Ortiz is a victim of the MLB for not destroying the List of 104. It has nothing to do with the fact that he was a platoon player who continued to use steroids despite advanced notice of testing.

This guy is a freaking joke. Take some personal responsibility for your actions on and off the baseball field. I have never seen anything like this since Mo Vaughn blamed the Boston media for his father's urinary tract infection.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Should We Feel Sorry for David Ortiz?

The situation up here is that David Ortiz is allegedly being judged (and unfavorably so) over eleven at-bats. They are calling for his benching, specifically against left-handed pitchers, because they have Mike Lowell sitting and rotting on the bench. Of course, the ultimate player's manager Terry Francona has stuck with Ortiz against lefties in the interest of making the player feel like he is not being threatened for his job. Therefore, at least for the first several games of the season, there will be no pinch hitting. And there will be no starting of Lowell against lefties, whom he has hit .301, and .318 over the past two seasons. Instead they will truck out Ortiz, who has bit, I mean, hit .212 and .221 against lefties the last two seasons.

The extra hit every ten at-bats is not important for this team where hits are few and far between, because the main priority in managing a baseball team is making everybody happy, not trying to win baseball games. Maybe, contrary to popular belief, Ortiz grew up in the United States in the 1990s, where everyone got a trophy for showing up and 15 years later feels an inflated sense of entitlement and self-worth.

Upon his expletive-ridden rant two nights ago regarding the fact that fans and media want to see him platooned with Lowell and being pinch hit for, I realized that Ortiz doesn't understand a few things:

1. It is NOT about three, seven, or eleven at-bats. It's about the entire body of work since the end of the 2007 season. Ortiz has not been the same for a long time, and while I pounded the drum on his behalf throughout 2007 when he hit about .320, 2008 and beyond are clear indications that Ortiz is not the same Ortiz who was irresponsible with his use of vitamins and supplements and crushed bombs in 2003-2006. Anyone who thinks that the anti-Ortiz sentiment has anything to do with the last eleven at-bats, or even his spring training at-bats, is delusional. Including the player.
2. The player's playing time would not be reduced by that much. By being the primary guy against righties, Ortiz will still get 70% of the at-bats from the DH spot. He inaccurately thinks people are overreacting over 11 at-bats? He's overreacting about 200 at-bats!

Also worth mentioning is that David Ortiz has been here before. Ortiz has been in a situation where he was pigeonholed into a platoon 1B/DH type, where he hit against righties and didn't play against lefties. This was in 2002 with Minnesota. And you know what? He wasn't bad. His righty numbers were .299 with an OPS over .900 and on pace for over 30 home runs over the course of a full season of at-bats. This was amid injury struggles as well. But this is not a new situation for David Ortiz. Certainly not an ideal situation, but when you're 34 in Dominican years, what do you expect? Guy had a great run at it for five full seasons. And nothing (but steroid allegations) can take anything away from that.

Look, I understand that Ortiz was uncomfortable with his role in Minnesota during those days--probably so uncomfortable that he became desperate and turned to irresponsibility with vitamins and supplements starting in 2003. But once he said he wanted to "bang" players who got busted for drugs (n.h.) for a year, he sealed his fate. It's time for Ortiz to turn back into a pumpkin. It happens when you're old. But it's not like Ortiz is an unproductive player as a pumpkin. The guy just has to start realizing that his manager is failing to do his job if he continues to be a social worker. His manager should be trying to win baseball games. And that means Lowell has to be in that lineup.

And the bottom line is, we should not be feeling sorry for David Ortiz. Again, he had five great steroid-fueled years. And he's still going to get 350-400 at bats at the very least. We, including the player, should all take a step back and start thinking rationally here.

Jonathan Patrick Papelbon

"I felt I had good command."

Home run given up to Granderson up high in the strike zone. Two walks, 15% of the number of walks he gave up in 2006.

"If I can duplicate the way I felt tonight for the rest of the season, I'd be extremely happy about that."

So would Billy Koch, as long as Papelbon can keep the ball in the ballpark against the Blue Jays.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Winning Series

Well pitched game on both sides tonight. And when that happens there is usually a lot less that happens, which means a lot less to talk about. Lackey and Pettitte both worked around one of the worst strike zones in recent memory to turn in excellent first starts of the season. Lackey was sharp from the start, and Pettitte had to battle a bit early, but once he settled in he rolled too. Lackey is the kind of guy you have to really grind, because he's going to grind you. You have to take what he gives you and try to mount rallies base runner by base runner, which the Yankees did not do tonight. Which was odd, because they have had good success against Lackey largely doing exactly that. Pettitte is Pettitte. What he has done against Boston in his career is pretty impressive.

Have to give Ortiz credit where credit is due. There has been a total overreaction to his first two games, and Pettitte was showing him soft away, soft away and the Ortiz got to his inside fastball. Great piece of hitting and a huge hit in the game at the time with both pitchers dealing.

Same goes for Nick Swisher. Tremendous AB vs. Bard. Kid throws hard with absurd breaking balls (looks like two - slider and curve) and change up. Swisher stayed right on it and got to an inside fastball for an RBI single to tie the game. Biggest at bat of the game pre-Granderson.

What a first series for Curtis Granderson. You homer off Beckett in my first at bat, and you homer off Papelbon in extras to win the third game of the series. His bat speed is incredible. I knew he had power, and I'm not sure if these two homers are not indicative, but if they are he has more power than I knew. These have been absolutely downtown.

So much has been made by many (myself included) about the Yankees being able to replace the overall production of Matsui/Damon/Cabrera with Granderson/Johnson/Gardner but maybe not the ability in the biggest spots. So far so good. Nick Johnson gets the game winning RBI yesterday, Granderson today. Granderson in particular is tremendous to see early, because that was such a huge hit off a fop flight pitcher against your rival in the first series of the season on the road. That's a lot. Johnson playing his patient game in a big spot was great to see too though, as it also gets the job done. It's only three games, but good start.

Both Pettitte and Lackey let out big fist pumps after ending innings tonight. In April. In Game 3 of the season. This topic is already way too drawn out, but one of my favorite ideas is that athletes should alter their temperament based on how big the game is or what point in the season it is. Temperament is a big part of performance for many athletes, and they get paid to perform at the highest level every night. That means not adjusting temperament no matter what point in the season, as every pitch and every swing should be approached with the same level of intensity. Again, that's what they get paid huge amounts of money to do. Winning tonight is just as important as winning in August. If they approach this game differently than they would a World Series game, then that is how you ultimately end up coming up short in both situations and everything in between because you aren't being consistent. Consistency is important for athletes, which is why they should, and thankfully largely do, approach every game the same way. At least the great ones, or those that aspire to be great, do. For some it's going to mean being way more demonstrative than others, and so be it. Good job by Pettitte, Lackey, Joba, Pedroia, and everybody else doing a good job in this regard in this series.

All you want to do every series is win it. Good job by the Yankees coming back from losing a tough game Sunday night to take two close games on the road in a tough environment to close out and win this series. They have had a penchant for starting slowly as a team in recent years, and it would be nice to build off of this solid start in probably the toughest circumstances they face during the regular season (Red Sox in Fenway).

I love beating Jonathan Papelbon.

Always Great To Get The First One

Always great to get the first win. Now both teams have it. Puts less pressure on tonight’s game, and I’m glad that four days into the season I don’t have to worry about a sweep.

Burnett and Lester pitched near identical games. Burnett (5 IP, 3 ER, 9 base runners) actually slightly bested Lester (5 IP, 4 ER, 10 base runners). When you consider relative expectations, it was an average performance for Burnett, and a pretty shaky one for Lester. I thought both pitchers had pretty good stuff, good knock on both fastballs, Burnett got his curveball going big later in the outing, and Lester was flashing some nasty off-speed as well. Issue was location, particularly fastballs, and neither of these teams are going to be forgiving in that particular situation. Lot of damage done on the old number one that both pitchers were leaving out, up, or both. Each team had a chance to do even more damage that was done, but never broke through, and I suppose that is a credit to both pitchers but also an indictment of neither team getting the hit to break the game open.

Speaking of rally killers, someone should tell the player wearing number 2 for each team that the season has indeed started. I know Jeter has 3 hits in 2 games and Ellsbury 2 in 2 (one of which was a gift), but it seems like these two have had a chance to do damage almost every time up and haven’t gotten it done. At least both are playing good D, though Jeter drives me nuts when he lollipops throws to first on routine grounders. I don’t understand why a guy with an arm strong enough to patent a jump throw in the hole can’t just plant and fire to first. He makes plays more difficult than they need to be for Teixeira fairly regularly, and sometimes like last night it catches up to him. Thankfully it didn’t burn the Yankees last night, but at some point it will, and it’s so unnecessary. I understand the mistakes that everyone is going to make, even on routine plays, but this particular issue seems to crop up for him more than it should for a player of his ability.

Been impressed with Curtis Granderson thus far. Weak at bat against Lester with the bases loaded and one out in the second (struck out), and he’s made some outs in some big spots with runner on third and less than two outs, but he’s rocketing the ball almost every time up. Only two hits to show for it so far, but if he keeps hitting the ball that hard they will come. I like the way he attacks. Great play by Youkilis on him to prevent the go-ahead run from scoring in the 6th.

Nick Swisher is 2-2 with two doubles and a hit by pitch. When Posada doubles to lead off the 8th in a tie game, Swisher tries to bunt. I like the unselfish play, but that’s not the right decision there, especially considering the lefty in Okajima on the mound and lefties in Gardner and Granderson hitting behind him. Not sure if that was from the dugout or Swisher on his own, but he has to swing the bat there. Plus, it’s not like it’s August against Joakim Soria. It’s April against Hideki Okajima, who can’t wait to give a game away. Granted he got unlucky with the Scutaro error, but we have a track record with this guy that says Swisher should be swinging the bat.

At first I liked the fist pumps, then I didn't, and now I like it again. If Joba Chamberlain needs to pump his fist to throw 96 to corners with an off the table slider like it’s 2007 all over again, I hope he does it after every pitch. That fastball he threw to Beltre was one of the best I can remember him throwing. You don’t get a swing like that unless it’s nasty, and the Yankees couldn’t get Beltre out all of the first two games with him pounding fastballs. When he struck out Drew and went to the fist pump, I got up and fist pumped too, not because of what it meant to the overall game but because of what it meant to Joba. One game does not mean he’s back, but that was as in the right direction as any step you can possibly take considering what we were saying after Sunday’s game. Importantly, he struck out Beltre on a 1-2 pitch and Drew on a 2-2 pitch. No three ball counts. Why? Because he was pounding his fastball. And when you have a fastball like he does, you're supposed to throw your fastball and get ahead in counts, not nibble and get into hitters counts. This is not rocket science, and is often a big part of the problem when he struggles in my opinion.

Great job by Girardi not making the same mistake two games in a row and getting Burnett out of there after five. However, he has to relax with playing bullpen matchups. I say it all the time, the more relievers you bring in, the greater the chances are that one of them is going to have a bad night. It worked last night, but it did not work Sunday night. If a righty looks good, you are better off leaving him in to face a lefty than brining in a lefty who you don’t know if he’ll look good or bad. At least in April. Plus, and I know this may seem like a wild notion, there are indeed righties that can get lefties out and vice versa. To end on a positive note after a win, I thought Girardi did an excellent job going right to Gardner for Thames when Lester was out of the game. A lot was made of starting Thames last night, but I didn’t have a problem with it. May as well figure out what you have in Thames early against one of the best lefties in the game. Gardner is going to get plenty of playing time, and isn’t going anywhere, so you want to try to figure out where and how guys like Thames fit in.

As far as starts go for my most important Yankees' hitter, it doesn't get much better than what Robinson Cano has done. 4 for 8 with a double, a homer, 3 RBI, and 3 runs scored. And he isn't missing.

Finally, last night is just another example of how important Alfredo Aceves is to this team. He can turn 4-5 inning starts by starters into 7-8 inning starts like he did last night. He can also keep tie games late/in extra innings tied for a while. Those are the two main ways he helps, but there are others. It's so big to have a versatile guy like him who can really be effective in the pen.

Enjoy the game tonight.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I'm a dreamer. Sleep in.

Tomorrow's Pat's day, but that post isn't going to show up until 9:30. As I had class all night, I watched very little of the game. I did get to watch the following, however:

-Scutaro not preventing runs by throwing balls in the dirt. I like the pimping after the home run after Rivera, but when you do run prevention, you have to prevent runs.
-Okajima walking the eventual winning run in. This is more puzzling than watching Paul Pierce miss free throws with the game on the line all the time. He's been playing the game his entire life. How on earth do you throw three straight balls when you know you give up a run if you walk freaking Nick Johnson?
-Scott Atchison proving exactly why he's played in Japan for each of the last two years. Nevermind Yankee Stadium. The first three hitters he faced would have hit home runs to right field in almost any ballpark in baseball. Pat won't tell you this, but Fenway converted two of those into warning track fly outs.
-Pathetic offense. The eighth was abominable. Damaso Marte throws the ball away and puts a guy on second with no outs. Santa Claus pops out even worse than he popped his mouth off all spring. Beltre strikes out on a ball in the dirt. And Drew looks as lost as ever, striking out on a ball right down the middle.
-This could be a long season here in Boston.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Paying for Potential

So the Red Sox' deal with Josh Beckett is done. Ups to the organization for evading tax codes by waiting until today to get it done. And minor ups to the player who took what many consider to be a slight hometown discount. That's probably true: I think any team who would pay more than what the Red Sox paid for the guy would be foolish. But there are a lot of foolish teams out there.

Seventeen million a year (that would be an "under" for last Friday's post) is a hefty chunk of change for a guy who is--let's face it--is still somewhat unproven. Not unproven in the respect that he hasn't had the opportunity to achieve resounding success. But unproven in the respect that, moreso like AJ Burnett than like John Lackey, he's had some success but hasn't been able to sustain it for an extended period of time. He's shown flashes of brilliance, just enough to tease anyone with a reasonable baseball eye.

This is an interesting (and disconcerting) pattern we're starting to see from the Red Sox' organization. They like to gamble on guys with a lot of upside. They like to pay less for potential (hello Smoltz, Penny, and Matt Mantei). They like to pay a moderate amount for potential (Matsuzaka translating into MLB, Scutaro after excelling in his ONLY season as an everyday player). And they like to pay a lot for potential ($70 million for the Next Mickey Mantle who just hadn't panned out...yet or ever).

This Beckett move has to be in the Drew category. Obviously not as heinous, for reasons I'll explain later, but the Red Sox sometimes have to realize that guys like Drew and Beckett AREN'T PROSPECTS ANYMORE. What you've seen over the past seven, twelve years--that's what you're going to get out of the guy. A flash of potential, and an occasional really bright flame, but for most of the time, you'll see a slighly better than average baseball player. Beckett can have the Blister Curveball working for 5-7 starts at a time, but no magic in the world is going to make the Blister Curveball work all the time. Not even during the 2007 season. Just like Drew can have two big hits and one big month, then become invisible for the rest of his time here. Beckett is a third starter. Perhaps the best third starter in baseball. But a third starter nonetheless. And it is inconsistent logic that the team would pay $17 million a year for a third starter with a lot of potential...

...and not pay $23 million a year for a first baseman with a lot of kinetic. Instead of being a powerhouse, Theo Epstein wants to be the Wilmington Girls' Track Team. Good. This money could have been spent more efficiently.

Not that I dislike Beckett. I think despite his soft skin (literally), he is one of the few players on the team who 1) will take responsibility for sucking, 2) will be dissatisfied with anything less than perfection, and 3) gives a crap about being less than perfect. While Papelbon talks more about his contract than about winning baseball games, Beckett wanted to get the contract garbage out of the way so he can focus on winning baseball games.

Two more things to say about this:

-It's another example of the Red Sox sucking at contract negotiations. It doesn't look like Beckett was gouging them or negotiating too stiffly here. He wanted to avoid inconvenience. But still, he didn't sign for the hometown discount. Seems like the team gouged themselves.

-It also looks like the team wants to eat more money. They have a lot of money invested in their rotation for the next four years, with Matsuzaka, Lackey, Lester, and Beckett. They have Wakefield for two years. God forbid Buchholz, Casey Kelly, Bowden, or someone else gets their act together. A good pitcher or two will be sitting on the bench or in Pawtucket. And other than Lester, the rest of the big contracts are virtually untradable unless money is eaten.

Until next time, I don't get paid to make those f'ing decisions.

Opening Day Circus

When you combine pitchers in their first game of the season with a nutty hitters park like Fenway you're bound to get a sloppy game. And that is just what the Yankees and Red Sox provided us tonight. You have to go back to April 16, 2008 to find a game played at Yankee Stadium where the Yankees and Red Sox both scored a modest 7 runs or more. Tonight marks the fifth time the two teams have done so in Fenway since that day. The place is just a freak show and certainly no lead is safe. I'm glad the media is finally starting to pick up on this as it happens enough to garner a little attention. It's like watching the same game on loop.

A few thoughts in some semblance of chronological order.

Josh Beckett cannot sign that extension fast enough. The more money and years the better. It's not just that he has a career 5.33 ERA against the Yankees (before tonight). That's actually secondary. The most important thing is that I wouldn't want the Red Sox spending that money on someone better.

Nice to see Granderson homering in his first at-bat as a Yankee and walking against a lefty later in the game. Getting him off to a fast start could be a key for both he and the Yankees. That knock was no doubt power from a center fielder.

I don't abide by conventional notions with pitchers. Just because Sabathia was cruising and just because he's way shy of 100 pitches doesn't mean I'm going to stick with him if he's not cruising anymore. Anyone watching saw that he started to lose it a little bit in the 5th. When he walks Pedroia to lead off the 6th - which is about as un-Sabathia-like as it gets - I'm certainly getting ready to pull him. When Martinez ropes a double, I'm definitely not letting him pitch to Youkilis. In July, that's different. But in the first game of the season no way. But that remains one of Girardi's biggest weaknesses as a manager, when to pull his starters, so why not get right to it in the first game of the season (literally as I'm typing this, Girardi just said in the post game that they figure they had CC for 105 to 110 pitches, so that's where they were going to let him go tonight. This makes sense. Never mind how a guy is pitching. Figure out how many pitches you have him for, and let him go to that).

Not sure what David Robertson did wrong, but he must have done something at some point. Guy pitches his tail off all of 2009, playing his best baseball when it mattered most in the playoffs, and Chan Ho Park shows up and is the 7th inning guy? I know it's just the first game of the year, and the bullpen under Girardi will be fluid, but if anything that's more of a reason why Robertson would be pitching and Park wouldn't, because Robertson has done it. He was already in the game, just let him pitch.

Really sloppy defense on both sides, from Gardner throwing the ball 30 feet off line, to Swisher taking a terrible route to Youkilis' triple, to Posada not being able to catch the baseball, to the Yankees getting the Red Sox on one of the oldest tricks in the book. As I said in the beginning a lot of this is to be expected. You probably just don't expect all of it in one game.

The Red Sox are tough to beat at home because of their fans. When you have a group that has the discipline to take time away from the game in the 8th inning when the score is 8-7 to do the wave, you know you have something special. Best fans in the game.

We'll have to wait and see what happens, but I would say it is very possible the Yankees have taken an unhittable reliever, toyed around with him for two years to get him to the point where he could show if he is a starter or not, then denied him that opportunity, all in all turning him into a good reliever, which is different than unhittable. An analogy I saw the other day that I'm going to take a step further. It's like taking a world-class 100 yard sprinter, making him a marathon runner because that's tougher to find, getting him to the point where he can run 25 miles, then shutting it all down just before 26.2 to be a 100 yard sprinter again, which he can't do like he used to. Awesome.

This might be the only day of the season where blowing a 5-1 lead is not completely inexcusable. At times it didn't even feel like the regular season. Still stings, just not break things sting. One thing the Yankees are going to have to figure out is how to finish the game after the pound Beckett early. It seems like they are always lighting him up and then leading the Red Sox back into the game. That's for later I guess. The issue now is the one thing anyone who has been reading hear for a while knows I say to avoid every time the Yankees go to Fenway, and that's a sweep. Anytime you can go to Boston, especially early in the season, and take 1 of 3 it's usually going to be just fine. At home, no, and late in the season, no, but at this stage you just want to avoid giving the Red Sox an unnecessary early head start. Unfortunately, this was by far and away the Yankees best pitching match-up, as Sabathia is a lot better than Beckett. Now you're staring at a very clear Red Sox edge in Burnett/Lester and a toss-up all equal in Pettitte/Lackey that swings Lackey's way since it's at Fenway. The Yankees will have to hope for more offensive circuses. Thankfully at Fenway the likelihood of that happening is always high.