Saturday, May 29, 2010

Complacency

There are a lot of words I could use to describe the Yankees' effort today in a 13-11 loss to the Indians. I'll use that one, because it is broad enough to sum up a lot of the things that go with it. To blow a 5 run lead to the Indians with 9 outs to go, you basically have to lack the drive and focus of a team with that real winning instinct (like the 2009 Yankees, for example). Right now, this team simply doesn't have just that. They are talented and are getting some incredible individual performances. But the real reason they are 9 games over .500 (which seems amazing given their play the last month) is because they had that winning instinct for the first month. That's what makes this all so confusing. It isn't the brand of baseball being played (although it is different) as much as it is the attention to detail and focus. I've said all of this before. I noted at the time how tightened up this team looked out of the gate. Now they look just the opposite. Their talent has allowed them to continue to win at an above average pace, but they should be winning even more. At no point this season was that more evident than today.

They had leads of 3-0, 9-3, and 10-4 with their ace, C.C. Sabathia on the mound. He gave them 6 innings and surrendered 5 runs. This is now his third awful start in his last four outings. This is going to happen. As I say all the time I have no problem with bad performance. That is going to happen in any sport, let alone one with a season as long as baseball's. What you can't accept is bad performance at anything less than full effort and focus. I have praised C.C. Sabathia on numerous occasions in this space for his drive and effort, doing whatever it took to win. That was on display again early in the season. Recently it just hasn't, and the fact that he usually is not this way is not an excuse. He fielded a ground ball today with a runner on first, didn't even look to second base to check out if he had a chance, and then lobbed the ball to first with the runner almost beating it out. What is that? What's more, all five of the runs he gave up today were with two outs, after giving up four two out runs in one inning against the Mets in his last start. This is admittedly more performance related than the last example discussed, but a pitcher of his caliber should not be giving up this many two out runs. It's a small sample, but when you're one out, one batter, one pitch from getting out of an inning, you need to do it. Two out runs happen but they shouldn't be happening at this frequency, not to someone with the ability of Sabathia.

Of course he was not alone. More mental/focus mistakes were abound. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, who are supposed to be the Yankees' two best RBI guys, not getting a runner each in from third with less than two outs. Brett Gardner getting picked off first taking the Yankees out of a potential big inning. All of these things cost the Yankees runs. It didn't seem like that big of a deal at the time, because the Yankees had a big lead. But that really is what being complacent is all about. You get comfortable so you don't do the things you should be doing. That's been the Yankees for a month now.

Of course you have the effort of the relievers, and I'm just not sure how much of this goes on them, how much goes on Girardi, and how much goes on David Robertson - who has been fantastic for a while after a rough start - having to leave the 7th early with a strained back. However much blame goes on each, two things I know for sure: the relievers need to pitch better and Joe Girardi needs to do a better job of managing them. Pitching better is self-explanatory. On managing better, how about trying something different just for the sake of trying something different? Clearly this pattern, the one where he mixes and matches relievers until their is a major threat, and then he just hopes Joba and Mariano get out of it, is not working. I understand that he was not put in an easy spot when Robertson has to leave the game. But then he brings in Mitre, who throws gets all the time he needs to warm up after the injury, to only throw 3 pitches (he walked the batter Robertson started off 1-0 before leaving the game) with a 10-6 lead and one out in the 7th. If he's not going to pitch then, when is he going to pitch? Ditto Marte, who comes in and gets his lefty. If he can't pitch to a righty with a 4 run lead in the 7th and two outs in one of the biggest left fields in baseball, when can he pitch to a righty? You can't always just go to Joba and Mariano when there is the first sign of trouble, because that is how relievers wear down. He also has to stop with this hyperactivity. It creates an unnecessary sense of uneasiness. The team has a 4 run lead. There are 8 outs to go. People besides Joba and Mariano can get some of those outs. It's not a 1 run game in October. I understand this contradicts my whole bit here about complacency, but there is such a thing as going too far in the other direction. That is about where Joe Girardi is with his bullpen management.

This might seem like an overreaction to one game. But this game is not the issue. It just happens that this is the most egregious example of the general attitude this team has had for nearly a month. That is one of not winning games they should win. Maybe I'm incorrect in saying it's because they are complacent. No doubt about that, it's only my opinion. What is indisputable is that they are not winning games that they should, injuries or not. Today is another one of those games, and was by far the biggest lay up yet. It should have been a win probably more than 9 out of 10 times. In a division as tough as this one, every single win counts. This is one the Yankees are not going to have at the end that would have been nice to have. Even though this is the most obvious one, unfortunately it is not the only one recently. They need to put a stop to this, even if their overall record is still very good. There is no reason to play complacent baseball, or at least baseball at a level less than what they are capable, which is what the Yankees are doing right now.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Dr. Number Two

First of all, on the topic that gets a lot of discussion around here, last night was 90% Matsuzaka's fault. The Yankees game, he was hit and hit hard, but at the same time he was the victim of a lot of catchable balls not being caught. I talked about how Number Two being in the outfield instead of JD'ing out with a pseudo-injury was probably a big factor in that. But last night was "fielding-independent." Sabermetricians have a stat that takes into consideration only walks, strikeouts, and home runs, and call it "fielding-independent pitching." Walking the bases loaded and walking runners in is not good for your FIP. The fact that the guy walked the bases loaded in the fourth as well means that Matsuzaka was actually lucky he only gave up three runs. Not good stuff.

Just to throw it out there, this is an MLB-only problem. The player walked one batter every four innings his last four seasons in Japan.

Onto my main point: People pretty much ignored my post two weeks ago questioning the validity of Number Two's injury. It's two weeks later and Number Two is still not in the lineup. He made a cameo over the weekend, dove unnecessarily for an easily-catchable ball, didn't hit, and pretty much called it quits. We are now at the point that other players (according to insiders) are questioning whether the player is willing to play at less than 100%. Number Two was 1-14, so obviously playing at 99% was hurting his stats. With arbitration coming up this winter, going 1-14 and lowering your batting average is not advantageous for the player's personal situation. Perhaps it helps the team because you're not going to see Billy Hall in the outfield anymore, but Number Two doesn't care about helping the team.

Apparently Number Two, during his injury, is considering going to 7 years of JD--I mean, medical school. Number Two is actually more willing to make a diagnosis than all of the doctors I've seen the last six months. He seems to know a lot about treating broken ribs, and he thinks the Red Sox aren't doing it right. He popped off to Gordon Edes Wednesday night, saying the team misdiagnosed it and are trying to save face. Interesting. They originally misdiagnosed Mike Cameron, too, and he's not complaining. He wants to play baseball, so much that he's delaying his sports hernia surgery.

But Number Two isn't interested in doing his job. He's interesting in finding fault. Back in the earlier part of this month, Number Two said that this rib pain was going to be with him all season. Sounds like a freaking expert to me. Very interesting to know that Number Two already knows how he's going to be feeling in September. Has he ever cracked his ribs before? No. Has Tom Brady? Yes. How many games did Brady miss? Zero. But Number Two is apparently a doctor because he knows more than Thomas Gill knows about how he's going to feel in September.

Either that or he wants a built-in excuse to why he will have sucked all year. The only thing Dr. Number Two is doing by sitting out, talking about sitting out, and missing two months, is building his case when he sits in an arbitration room next February. He'll use the Red Sox doctors' original misdiagnosis as leverage. He'll use the time off to minimize less-than-ideal stats recorded at 95-99%. He'll use the ribs as an excuse just in case he sucks. And the Red Sox will continue to have Bill Hall and Jeremy Hermida play left field in their run prevention formation.

Thanks, Dr. Number Two. So glad you're so much smarter than everyone else. The baseball season is 54 days old. Number Two has played in nine of those days. He's been on the DL for 37 days. And he's JD'ed out without being on the DL now for eight days, with more time sure to be ahead.

The Red Sox don't have time for an overrated one-tool player who makes unnecessary diving catches just to call attention to himself. Especially if the player is throwing their medical team under the bus. Especially if the player is raising a one-man labor dispute. Especially if the player is the first person to hire Scott Boras after the Arod World Series stunt. If the Red Sox can entertain trade offers for this stiff, maybe it will hurt run prevention in the short run. But ridding themselves of this hypochondriac baby would save the team loads of frustration. Plus, it wouldn't hurt run prevention any more than the current situation, when the guy just doesn't play for no reason. Seriously, who else has missed two months because of a hairline fracture of their ribs? Drew probably would. But I don't think anyone ever has.
Huge ups to Tony Massarotti and Edes, who are the only journalists with enough balls to go after this jerk. But I'll leave you with this comment: If Number Two had gone 8-14 during his three games this weekend, would we be having this conversation at all?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Change In Approach

In baseball I often try to look at the approach more than results. Obviously at the end of the day you need to have results; approach doesn't win games. But over a long season like baseball, a good approach will typically produce good results relative to the talent of the player/team on the aggregate. Baseball is the type of sport that a good approach will not always produce good results, as it's a game of failure. With that in mind, it's certainly a game where a bad approach will rarely produce good results.

I praised the Yankees early in the season for their approach, offensively, pitching the baseball, and defending. They seemed focused on every play, every game. The attention to detail, especially coming off of a World Series where a hangover would not be a total surprise (although it is not excusable), was incredible.

Some time in the last few weeks it was like a light switched and all of this changed. Not just for some players or one area of the team, for most players and most areas of the team. That is what has made this recent spell of mediocre baseball so frustrating to watch. As I mentioned earlier this week, it isn't the results, it was the way they were losing. You could say it was their approach.

For me, in any sport, a good approach on its most basic level boils down down to preparing and competing. The players/team that is more prepared and competes at a higher level usually wins games. Within reason of course. The Pirates could prepare more and compete harder than the Yankees, and they still wouldn't be a better team. But amongst teams of similar talent, it is my experience that preparation and competition are typically the biggest determining factors.

The Yankees level of preparation and competition, or should I say a lack thereof, for the last few weeks has been alarming. Two nights and an off day after letting Johan Santana basically dance through them on barely more than 10 pitches an inning, they let Scott Baker throw an even 50 pitches through 5 innings, allowing no runs. What, exactly, did they talk about preparing for that game Tuesday? Did they discuss the need to work counts and thus the starting pitcher? Grinding at bats from the first inning on through the whole game, not just the last two or three innings? Either the coaching staff isn't doing a good job preparing the players, or the players are not doing a good job taking the game plan and executing. Or in other words, competing.

They just won Game 1 (suspended from last night) 1-0. While the pitching approach has been better - Burnett and the bullpen were lights out - the offensive approach continued to be poor yet again after the poor approach in the first half of Game 1. Hopefully Game 2, even if it doesn't produce better results, will at least produce a better approach. Preparation and competition will eventually produce results, especially on a team this talented.

Is This the Business Plan?

An interesting idea was thrown around on the radio last night, and this was before Jon Lester threw another semi-gem against the team who's second in the lead for runs scored per game. I say "semi-gem" only because the guy walked five, but he gave up zero runs and struck out nine. Can't say command was stellar, but he painted the corners effectively (ask Joe Maddon) and basically pitched another Jon Lester non-April game. Which brings me back to where I started.

The theory thrown around on the radio last night was that the Red Sox de-emphasize April games as far as their starting pitching goes. Tony Mazz, who knows some inside information, said that the Red Sox' offseason training program is less strenuous than other teams'. Their spring training program is similarly conservative and not aggressive. How many Red Sox starters threw seven innings in any spring training games?

Therefore, these pitchers are not ready to crush in April. They're still working things out the first few weeks of the season. And that might be why Jon Lester specifically has been such a slower starter, and perhaps why run prevention was such a disaster up until and including the Baltimore sweep.

The focus for this team is obviously on pitching well in September and October, and it's difficult for any athlete in any sport to be at their best for six or seven months straight. Obviously regarding this possible business plan, there are two schools of thought: My first instinct was to hate and say that the games in April count just as much as the games in September. However, they do NOT count just as much as the games in October. While it's troubling that there might not be any games in October if they JD out in April, that is more favorable than being completely burned out and ready to go golfing or bowhunting once the games start to count more. I mean, we've seen pitchers pitch like Cy Young in April and then not really be around in September. Citing Wakefield is not fair, but he's one of them. Lackey is historically the opposite.

Perhaps this has become a league-wide thing, as a lot of teams, Boston included, have enjoyed more offense than usual in the first month and a half of the season, as it's easier to get prepared to hit than it is to get prepared to pitch. But here it is, May 26th, and the Red Sox' starters have given up only one run since Friday. Run prevention is working.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hitting Their Stride?

The Red Sox are playing .667 baseball (14-7) since the infamous sweep of the Baltimore Orioles. Ironically, I don't think anyone has watched them since then, but 14-7 is not bad, especially against the teams they've had to play against. It is not good that they're still losing to the Yankees pretty much all the time, but they've won a series against Philadelphia and swept one against the Twins. It's also nice to see that they won a game against Tampa.

It's pretty easy to focus on the negative. This year's team and its propensity to whine is pretty dislikable, perhaps even more dislikable than the 2009 version. It is probably Theo Epstein's fault to plan the current contracts the way he did, but that's life when you're bad at negotiating. There has been more talk on the radio about Ortiz's whining than there is about Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester hitting their stride. But I guess that is the nature of this town.

I did not get to see either Matsuzaka or Wakefield's performances. It was actually Tim C who alerted me that Matsuzaka took a no-hitter deep into the game. The box score looks pretty nice though. Four walks is quite a bit, but one hit over eight speaks for itself. I just hope nobody says "it must be the catching."

The way I feel about Wakefield is the way I feel about the Red Sox. Sometimes it's good and he should be in the rotation. Sometimes it's bad and he should retire. There is really no middle ground. Sports radio suggested that Wakefield is a guy who should be in the rotation until he gets hurt. Pretty much use him the way they used him last year. But that still begs the question: Should there be a six-man rotation? Should someone else go to the bullpen? I don't think either of those are viable options. And this would not be an argument if Wakefield gave up 6 earned and four homers in 3 1/3. Which very well might happen next time around. I think Beckett should just chill out on the DL until this happens. It is a bummer that in this scenario Wakefield is going to lose his job the first time he screws up. But the goal is to win baseball games.

Nobody is talking about Kevin Youkilis. The tape measure blast to center field fell on blind eyes the other day, and it's a shame that more people are talking about David Ortiz's victimization by the media instead of the fact that he's on his way to an MVP-caliber campaign. The run prevention team's performing quite well offensively on the aggregate. And that is largely because of Youkilis. Guy leads the league in walks and in runs. His OPS is the second-highest of all AL...players, and as we are a month away from June, it's over 1.000 still. Hard to argue against Morneau, who is being treated very well both by the traditional and the sabermetric stats. But Youkilis is being treated very well by the sabermetric stats. He is also incidentally second in the league in triples and eleventh in home runs.

The bullpen is just not that good. Ram-Ram, welcome to earth after last year. If this team is indeed a buyer around the trade deadline, a bullpen piece might be the most important priority. Because it seems like the rotation is starting to remember how to pitch.

News flash: Number Two is not a guy who can singlehandedly transform a lineup. He's back, and Cameron's coming back too today. This means the end of the Darnell McDonald era. Even if he never sees the majors again, he has something to tell the grandkids.

This may be artificially low because the Yankees have played like a AAA team lately, but the Red Sox, despite being fourth in the AL East still, are only two games out of the Wild Card.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Unacceptable Baseball

I would recommend that Joe Girardi flip a table after the game tonight. I would also recommend that one of his veteran players flip one right back at him. This is mostly going to be about the players, as it should be because they aren't hustling, focusing, or executing. Whatever the managerial equivalent of those things are, that's what Girardi is doing. Most importantly, I know the team is short, but since the team has scored almost no runs off of starting pitchers since Tuesday that maybe mixing up the lineup just for the sake of trying something different (since this clearly isn't working) might be worth it? Should Brett Gardner, who has been ice cold for 3 weeks (average has dropped .50 points), and who has an OBP nearly ONE HUNDRED points lower vs. lefties this season, be batting 2nd against a lefty like Santana? Has Mark Teixeira done that much in his career that when he has the second lowest batting average in the AL he just gets to continue batting 3rd? Is there anything wrong with moving him around, and when he starts hitting moving him back? He can't be that fragile mentally. He is CRIPPLING this offense right now that is already short on bats. Gardner struck out, grounded into a crushing double play, and grounded out weakly to 2nd. Teixeira struck out, then grounded out twice on the first pitch. And the game isn't over. But let's just keep going with these guys up top. It isn't the managers job to adjust based on how his players are or aren't performing.

Ultimately this falls on the players though. Not performing is one thing. Losing is one thing. Over the course of 162 games, players are going to go through stretches of not getting it done and teams are going to lose. This is acceptable. What is not acceptable is doing either of those things in sloppy fashion. You should never play sloppy baseball. When you're winning and you slip on a few things, you can get away with it. Still shouldn't do it, but it happens. You should never, under any circumstance, be seen doing anything at less than 110% when the team is losing, you personally are playing bad baseball, or both. This team has all kinds of "both" going on right now.

Of the first 10 runs the Mets scored this weekend (though the middle of tonight's game), all 10 came with 2 outs. That is such an incredible lack of bearing down (especially since 9 of them were off Rivera, Hughes, and Sabathia) it is tough to take. Cutoff men are being missed, allowing runners to take extra bases. Flyballs are dropping inbetween outfielders and infielders, some of whom do not seem to be doing everything they can to catch the ball. People are going into home run trots on balls that do not end up being home runs. Very few people are grinding at bats. Just as few are bearing down and getting the job done with runners on base. They don't tack on runs. The hitters basically mailed it in against Santana tonight after they went down 4-0, and that resulted in him getting through 7 innings on 90 pitches, which is perhaps most frustrating of all considering how frequently Sabathia has picked them up over the last 1.5 years and it was him who needed them to pick him up tonight. That has actually been largely true all week, the offense has not done much to pick up the starting pitching the way the starting pitching has often picked the offense up this season. All of this is unacceptable to varying degrees.

Again, this is primarily on the players. They have to perform, especially as far as the hustle and focus stuff is concerned. But when they aren't, it's the manager's job to make the changes he can to try and put the team in the best position. The players are not performing and the manager is not doing this. That has resulted in the team going 5-10 in their last 15 games. The Yankees finally had a good April, their first in a while. That doesn't make it okay to give it all back in May. Everyone was going bananas over Boston's struggles early, and the Yankees now have a lousy two more wins and only three less losses then them. Which would all be semi-okay if the best team in baseball in Tampa Bay wasn't six games ahead of them. The Yankees are coming dangerously close to giving most of their good April back considering the circumstances. I understand they have been injured, but every team gets injured. The players need to perform and the manager needs to start putting the team in a better position to win.

That starts Tuesday in Minnesota, a series I view as a big test against a tough team on the road. The Yankees need to regroup on the off day tomorrow and get back to playing at least tough baseball if they aren't going to play good baseball. The lack of effort and focus has been unacceptable for over a week. Hopefully they will start getting some of their injured players (Granderson and Posada) back soon. Until then they need to play better, more driven baseball in order to not let the team in front of them get further away as well as the teams behind them gain ground the way these teams have been on both counts.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Good Journalism Out of Boston

I'm actually not being sarcastic here. And I give Tony Massarotti a lot of crap on this blog. I once referred to him here as the best baseball writer in Boston, and he also does a good job as Felger's sidekick on the radio. However, I disagree with a lot of his opinions, mostly because I think they're completely full of crap. Whatever.

Today he should be lauded for his responsible journalism. With the shameless, borderline-disgraceful homerism that comes from Boston journalists, Massarotti included specifically in terms of Varitek, the Waltham native and Real World (click the link) alum rose above it. Let's put it this way. David Ortiz made Massarotti a significant amount of money. Ortiz "wrote" an autobiography "with" Massarotti, which really meant Massarotti wrote it. People bought it. I may have actually been one of those people (if I wasn't, the Wilmington library was). When you're writing a 300-page book together, you build a relationship. When Ortiz popped off, blaming the Boston media for his father's urinary tract infection (sorry, that was Mo Vaughn, he blamed the media for being mean to him), Mazz lit him up on the radio today.

By "lit him up," I mean he said Ortiz was full of crap. Blaming the media for all of his problems, according to Massarotti, is irresponsible. Obviously, I agree strongly with Mazz, because if I didn't I'd be writing about Jon Lester tonight. Ortiz's shortcomings the last two years (and he said Ortiz's performance has been inadequate on the aggregate for the 2009 and 2010 seasons) are the result of many things. He's old. He suffered a significant wrist injury. He doesn't have Manny. And he did steroids during his heyday. Mazz went to all of these places.

He also went through the entire Ortiz-talking-trash timeline--also unexpected. He said that his co-author started to sour on him in 2009 when he started criticizing the Red Sox organization's not acquring another bat. Shut up and hit. I agree with Mazz whole-heartedly. He went through all of the other things, including the steroid thing and how this town gave him a Lance Armstrong "we'll just ignore these credible steroid accusations" treatment. The team, as this bombshell Howard Bryant article said, put their helmet on the steroid shrapnel with this guy. The ownership no longer speaks to Shaughnessy because he has been critical of the player. And now the player is going out and saying the team is trying to turn the fans against him. That is absolutely dispicable. Bottom line, the player is bashing the GM, the player is bashing the media on several different occasions, and this week alone is bashing the organization and the media.

The latest things he said today, saying the media shouldn't, well, breathe air because they've never hit a baseball or never been through a slump sounded like the anonymous HYD commenter about two years back saying that we sucked sitting in our "chinos and cartigans [sic]" and hadn't played baseball before. How juvenile of an argument is that? I can guarantee you that if, for example, Pat wanted to become a journalist instead of a lawyer and got stuck with track and field for five years, he'd know more about running than me, the guy who participates in it. I am man enough to admit that people watching and analyzing it CAN know about something. Do Shakespeare scholars have no authority because they've never written sonnets about a dude before? How about Jim Rice, Dennis Eckersley, and Lou Merloni doubting you, Ortiz? Go away.

But what I thought was interesting about today is not that I dislike what this steroid guy said. It's the fact that his co-biographer came out and ripped him today. True, it may be the case that what they wrote together can now be categorized as fiction ("I didn't hit 50 homers in Minnesota because management wanted me to hit singles." What a load of garbage, and I'm an idiot for believing it). But the two guys clearly have (or at least had) a relationship. But by reporting, analyzing, and having a reasonable opinion instead of displaying typical Boston homerism is why Massarotti deserves a whole blog post of praise today. I found it very interesting. And very admirable.

Other fun stuff:
1. Manny Ramirez straining his pinky toe and missing two games. That is unbelievable.
2. Jon Lester is less flashy and gets far less hype than the two high-profile right-handers on his staff. However, he's getting the job done. Tonight's performance was great. It doesn't seem that long ago when he was walking five guys a night, every night. I'm not talking about this April or last April. I'm talking about back when he was a rookie. Back then I don't think anyone expected Jon Lester to be as good as he is. Clay Buchholz--yeah, we probably expected this. But not Lester. And we should also talk about Youkilis's home run. Nobody's hit a ball that far to that area since Mo Vaughn on a Saturday night in 1995.
3. I bet FTB has something to say about Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong. I feel like Lance and Ivan Rodriguez are getting the same treatment. Implicated all over the place. Obviously that they used. But people find it inconvenient to hate on them. Cowards.

Enjoy your weekend. Franchise is graduating, so I know I will. Behind the end of JD Drew's career, this is the second-most anticipated event for me since the HYD advent.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The First Big Game

At a certain point each season you have your first big game. Could be a chance to get to .500. Could be a chance to win a rubber game against a division rival to impact the standings. Could be a certain set of circumstances. Could be a lot of things, but for the Yankees tomorrow it is definitely a certain set of circumstances. They have lost three of their last four games, and easily could have lost all four despite being in position to win two more than they did with six outs or less to go. They have played atrocious baseball in all four games. That was capped off by an absolute embarrassment against Tampa Bay tonight. Not paying attention to baserunners, getting picked off bases, not making routine plays, having completely impatient at bats, not getting hits in big spots, the list goes on. There is a total lack of focus, and it is unacceptable. I've been talking about the starting pitching the Yankees have been getting as being unsustainable, and as it becomes less sustainable (even if it is very good) they are going to lose games they had been winning. That is starting to happen, and they need to pick it up in other areas. With the injuries substantial and mounting, this needs to start with extreme attention to detail, which should be a job requirement but has not been evident recently. All of this said, the Yankees have a chance to win a game tomorrow and have a 4-3 homestand against Minnesota, Boston, and Tampa Bay, all good teams. All considered, especially the aformentioned injuries, that would be a great thing. Considering the game is against the best team in baseball, who happens to be the same team who made the Yankees look like a Little League team tonight, it is a big game.

Now on to the fun stuff:

- The Yankees have to figure out a way to iron out flyballs/pop-ups inbetween the outfielders and SS/2B. Other teams don't have half the awkward moments Jeter and Cano have with the outfielders on their own team. While this is often the outfielder's fault for not calling balls that are theirs and thus asserting themselves, Jeter and Cano go after balls in a way that give the outfielders pause. There is such a thing as being over-aggressive, and that is the case when you go for balls that you very clearly know (or should know) the outfielder can catch with ease. I'm not talking about flares that you have to go all out to get. I'm talking about high flyballs that the catcher would have a chance to get under if he sprinted. In this scenario, it's the outfielders ball. Every. Single. Time. It falls on all of them. Girardi needs to address it. The outfielders need to assert themselves and take every ball that is theirs. Letting Jeter/Cano get it sometimes breeds confusion, and that will cost you when it counts, like it did Tuesday night in the 9th inning. Jeter and Cano have both played enough baseball to have a sense of which flyballs they need to seriously pursue. Situations like Marcus Thames dropping that ball last night should not occur often. Sometimes it's going to happen. But it's going to happen more than it should when the Yankees have what seems like a few adventures per week regarding who is going to catch the ball.

- I would not have bunted Fransisco Cervelli in the 9th inning last night. This is what Papelbon had done against the last eight Yankees he had faced before Cervelli between Monday and Tuesday: double, line out to deep right center, two-run homer, fly out to deep left center, hit by pitch, two-run homer, reach on error, RBI double. Is this the kind of guy you want to give a free out to? With the bottom of the order coming up? With a contact hitter who can really handle the bat up, who also happened to be ELEVEN FOR FOURTEEN with RISP and batting .375 on the season? If it's a weaker/colder hitter at the plate, okay. If the top or middle of the order, or even the normal Yankees' bottom of the order is coming up, okay. But you're giving a guy who can't get any outs an out to pass the bat to Marcus Thames, Juan Miranda, and Randy Winn. Come on. Now all he has to do is get one out and he's in position to end the game straight up. I understand that by moving the runner over now you can tie the game with an out. But you know the infield is going to be brought in. You also know Papelbon has the ability to get a strikeout, even though he hasn't been doing much of that this year. So you need a very particular kind of out, a flyball, and not just any flyball, one deep enough to get the runner in. And you get once chance to do it. Are you really improving your odds doing it this way, as opposed to giving a fastball hitter (Cervelli) a chance to single, and if he can't do it, you have two more chances? And that ignores the possibility that Cervelli moves him over by swinging the bat, which a guy with his kind of contact and situational hitting ability can do.

- The Yankees have to start turning balls that should be outs into outs. With a 5-1 lead, when Marco Scutaro grounds to third base, Rodriguez needs to convert that play. He didn't, committing a throwing error, and instead of one out nobody on, it was no out runner on first. A four run inning ensued, tying the game. A tough play, but one that needs to be made. Facing a 2-0 deficit against a team with great pitching, when B.J. Upton grounds to shortstop, Jeter needs to convert the play. He didn't, letting the ball glance off his glove and too far away to make the play, and instead of one out nobody on, it was no out runner on first. A four run inning ensued, turning a manageable deficit into a blowout. A tough play, even tougher than Rodriguez's, but one that needs to be made. In both instances their pitching needs to pick them up. But the pitching has been picking this team up all season. The defense needs to start making it easier on them. We don't even need to talk about the Thames play, that was one of the more ridiculous things I have ever seen on a baseball field. And it's not the first time he's done it this year.

- The Yankees have to start tacking on runs when they get leads early. They had chances Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday to do this. They didn't, and it came back to bite them all three times. We are talking gimme situations too. For example, Tuesday night, Bottom 6, Yankees up 5-1, bases loaded nobody out. Manny Delcarmen has no idea where the ball is going, walking the bases loaded and getting a groundball inbetween. Brett Gardner chops a ball weakly to Pedroia who easily gets the out at home. There has to be better execution than this, and it is happening all across the board with this team. You get that run home, then you get the run home in the 9th, and there's your ballgame, Yankees win. It's like they get complacent when they have an early lead, just expecting the pitching to take it home. Unacceptable.

- Related, Brett Gardner needs to start doing more of the little things well. I've talked about this a few times before this season. He's being incredibly productive, and he is doing it by doing the big things well. Which is great, except he could be providing more if he would do some of the little things more. It's very bizarre, because usually players like him get to where they are by doing all of the little fundamental things correctly. He cannot get a runner in from third with less than two outs. Can't do it. He's come to the plate 10 times in that situation so far this year. He's 1/9 with a walk. Keep in mind that you don't get an at-bat for a sacrifice fly, so a .111/.200/.111/.311 line in this situation is atrocious. It appears to be the approach, because he's also had 10 plate appearances with a runner on third and two outs, and he's 3/8 with two walks, good for a .375/.500/.375/.875 line. It's an extremely small sample, but this is not a good trend. Especially when you pair it with other little things, like getting picked off in the very first inning and not being able to execute a bunt. He's having a great start to the season, but that is no reason to not get the little things done, especially when you have the skill-set/game that he has.

- Dustin Pedroia is a crybaby. He complains about almost every call that doesn't go his way it seems like, no matter how obviously against him it is. C.C. Sabathia struck him out looking on Tuesday on a ball that was closer to right down the middle than anything else, and he immediately turned around and spread his arms wide arguing with the ump. C.C. Sabathia then yelled something into him (that you could easily decipher on the highlights) that cannot be repeated on this blog. But the main point was "that was a strike, stop crying". The umpiring is terrible, no doubt. But since they're so bad, that gives you plenty of opportunity to whine about stuff that is actually a legitimate gripe.

- C.C. Sabathia was outstanding on Tuesday. It was a perfect example of why he has become one of my favorite athletes ever. Terrible weather, throws a ton of pitches early, the Yankees' bullpen is taxed and has been awful, and he finds a way to get through 7 giving up only 4 hits, 3 walks, and one run by way of a Youkilis solo homer. He finds a way almost every time it seems. A.J. Burnett was awful tonight, but at least he didn't further work and already overworked bullpen, at least in terms of the key guys. Hopefully Pettitte can continue his excellent season tomorrow, because the Yankees will need it if they want to get a win in their first big game of the season.

- Finally, the injuries continue to mount. Jorge Posada is going to be out a few weeks due to a hairline fracture that is the result of a foul ball he took off of his foot while catching Sunday. Marcus Thames stepped on his own bat after singling and sprained his ankle. The bug has really hit this team right now, which is going to happen sometimes. They just have to be thankful that so far nothing is serious, and try to navigate the next few weeks. Most importantly, they have to hope the starting pitching can continue to stay healthy. If that happens, the should be able to deal with non-major injuries to the lineup, even when they come in bunches like they are right now (obviously major injuries are a different story, it's tough for any team to lose a key player anywhere on the roster and make up for the lost production no matter how good they are). If they can get through these next two weeks without anymore injuries and without taking a hit in the standings, then get Swisher, Granderson, and Posada back by early June, that shouldn't be a bad spot to be in. They do still have the second best record in baseball, so they have given themselves a slight cushion, although Tampa Bay being as good as they are (by far the best team in baseball, the Yankees aren't close to on their level right now and neither is anybody else) makes that cushion not seem like much. Big game tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Shake, shake, shake, shake, shake it off

What do Mariah Carey and Daisuke Matsuzaka have in common? Well, other than Derek Jeter rounding bases with both of them, they are both fans of shaking it off. Except when Mariah's talking about the Calgon commercial and getting up out of here, Matsuzaka's talking about Victor Martinez. Part of the fallout of Monday night's latest chapter of the 2010 meltdown of the Boston baseball franchise, Matsuzaka and V-Mart had some barbs to trade with each other to the media. They had a meeting with Francona today.

After the game last night, Martinez said that there was some miscommunication and that Matsuzaka shook him off with a frequency he took exception to. According to Martinez, Matsuzaka was the one with the final say on which pitch to throw during last night's disastrous first inning. According to Matsuzaka, there was a problem with his first innings, and he knows what those problems are, but doesn't want to tell the media what they are (clearly implying he's talking about Martinez). It's been a long time since the Red Sox have so outwardly hated being on this team, and maybe Francona's drank so much Bigelow Green Tea that he can't even handle these guys anymore. Lowell saying he might ask for a release is also quite a development, and Ortiz continuing to say the team is using NESN to turn the fans against him is not much of a development, because the guy's had a big mouth since it was determined he was irresponsible with his use of vitamins and supplements.

But this shaking-off scandal between this battery makes me say a few different things:

1. Maybe Matsuzaka SHOULD START LISTENING TO MARTINEZ! If Matsuzaka is shaking the catcher off repeatedly, overusing his unimpressive fastball he couldn't locate, and getting absolutely shelled, maybe his ideas are not better! This is as if Mariah, with her alleged eight-octave voice, decided to go against her advisors' advice, sing only Avril Lavigne songs (which span about one octave), selling no records, and blaming her advisors on it. No. Maybe you're underutilizing your own talents because you have no confidence in yourself. Nice gyroball, you stiff.

2. Time to blame yourself. Maybe he's been hanging out with friggin Ortiz too much. He's shaking off his catcher non-stop, then he's saying his catcher is the problem.

3. Is this disharmony between pitcher and catcher a new thing? I mean, we've seen this, we've seen Beckett (who probably has Troy Percival Syndrome, by the way) insist on Varitek, we've seen Burnout versus Posada, Lackey versus Varitek, Randy Johnson versus Posada, and we've seen Varitek vs. Buchholz (we'll get to that later). Is this something that has just started lately in the age of instant replay and one-hour postgame shows? Or has it always been this way?

4. Perhaps the worst thing that could possibly come of this development is the fact that Tony Massarotti might get his way in the respect that Varitek might get more playing time. Martinez may be blamed for this pitching staff imploding because John Farrell is untouchable here. If Matsuzaka doesn't want VMart, Beckett doesn't want VMart, and Lester preferring Varitek--and they all get their way--we'll be right back to the ice bags on the knees and .230 average by July 4th. The responsible use of Varitek has been a boon for the Red Sox' offense. And I still cannot grasp the idea that he's so much better at putting fingers down than Martinez. Buchholz doesn't seem to be complaining too much and--oh!--he's been the best freaking pitcher on this staff so far.

4a. Plus, Varitek's done awesome with Matsuzaka. With Varitek, Matsuzaka threw seven straight fastballs to dead-fastball hitter Kenny Lofton in the playoffs. And I have cited this incident several times on this blog because it's not an isolated incident of the catcher poorly handling the pitcher's expansive repertoire.

5. This situation is a lot different from the Varitek/Buchholz incident of two years ago that was covered extensively by the YES network but completely ignored by NESN. Instead of trying to show up a 23-year-old rookie on his 36th birthday, Martinez was expressing his displeasure toward a veteran who should know better.

6. This, coupled with the non-stop whining on this team last year, the overall collapse circumstances surrounding Monday's game, an unhappy Wakefield, an unhappy Ortiz, an unhappy Lowell, and an organization allegedly unhappy with its left fielder, is further evidence that this team is unraveling at the seams. It's gonna be a long summer.

Injury Update

I feel like the WebMD symptom checker is better for comedic purposes than it is for actual purposes, especially when you have to update the JD Drew injury archives. I didn't know that "apathy," "coma," and "lack of motivation" are symptoms you can choose for yourself. But sure enough, those symptoms may mean that you have benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. I'm still pretty disappointed that "sore glove hand" is not on the symptom checker yet, but that's life.

In other news, I am cleared to resume running on Monday, but I'd like to at least do a few miles before Mike Cameron returns to the lineup. We are suffering from the same injury. I'm really thrilled that he's basically resigned to the fact that he'll need offseason surgery, "noting that every other athlete he's talked to has had surgery to correct the injury." I'm pumped about this because my doctor is not certain this is a sports hernia and doesn't want to operate on me. My offseason is now, so if I come back at less than 100%, not only will I be tougher than Number Two, but I will probably need in-season surgery. I'm convinced this is inevitable, just as Cameron is. His doctors are more helpful than mine. And Paul Byrd's dentist is more helpful than both.

Monday, May 17, 2010

USC vs. Notre Dame

Yankees played like a Pete Carroll team tonight. I'm serious. They're playing against a vastly inferior team against whom they have previously had no problem winning. They just came off of a hard-fought series, and next weekend they're playing a higher-intensity series just because it's the Mets. It's only two Red Sox games, and it's in the middle of a week. Talk about a sandwich game. Girardi managed it like a sandwich game, as Pat texted me mid-afternoon about how he's forced to use Cervelli and Ramiro Pena in the same game.

The fact that he's using Chan Ho Park (the NoMaas "runs prevention" joke is gold) in the seventh inning of a one-run game is further evidence that the Yankees didn't prioritize winning tonight's game. They let the foot off the gas after they crushed a six spot off of Matsuzaka in the first two innings. Just like a USC/Notre Dame game, this is a game Girardi and the Yankees should have lost. The fact that they're vastly more talented than the Red Sox is why they won. This is also why Pete Carroll and USC always beat Notre Dame despite being hideously outcoached in sandwich games.

Of course, Billy Koch Papelbon had a lot to do with it, overthrowing the ball, relying on the predictable fastball, going right back to the same old predictable Dan Kolb Papelbon we saw last year.

This post was originally going to be a Matsuzaka indictment, but he did settle down. Kinda. He has to realize that this is America. You don't pitch once a week in between six days' rest. He must think he pitches on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball every week, because he doesn't start pitching until 8:05. Guy might be what I want to be, a guy who blew it out before the age of 30 and had nothing left by the time he entered his fourth decade.

Matsuzaka, like the rest of the team except for Heathcliff Slocumb Papelbon, should be commended for battling back. The Red Sox were the anti-Bruins tonight. They didn't lie down. Scutaro, Pedroia, and Nancy (twice) had good at-bats. Victor Martinez, Santa Claus, and Youkilis leveraged the little league ballpark pretty well, almost as well as the centaur and Marcus Thames did against Scott Williamson Papelbon in the ninth.

I wonder if Number Two can get earned runs on every run that scored after Hermida missed the ball in the first. Or the run that scored after Hermida missed the catchable Thames ball in the fifth. Or the Gardner run in the ninth when Darnell McDonald went Gabe Kapler on a weak liner. Number Two would have recorded outs on all three of those plays, and run prevention would have actually been a successful initiative. But as I wrote last week, Number Two has been milking this "injury" just about as much as Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez leveraged their sick grandmothers back in the early part of this century. Even after the CT scan revealed the NONDISPLACED hairline fractures, the timetable for his return was as soon as April 27th. It's been a few days away for a month now. Way to hurry back.

Good for Wakefield. He stood up and sat down three times before going in. And he stood to get the win before Keith Foulke Papelbon tried to blow the ball by Arod like he unsuccessfully did in 2008.

Some people at the Yankees game shouldn't have been there. Don't go to the game in a sport jacket. There was a woman sitting in the front row behind the batters' box sleeping in her $1250 seat. Probably had two glasses of white wine and decided to pass out. Go to a play. This is why FTB was complaining about NYS.

Byung-Hyun Kim Papelbon's blown save was the team's eighth of the year. And honestly, I no longer think it's a 100% physical kind of thing. Jeff Zimmerman Papelbon's been way too good all year, and that's because (as this now-ironic article explains) he's been switching his pitches up again. He can still be a good closer. Not Mariano Rivera. But good. However, if he keeps trying to blow away guys like Arod, he's going to get results like tonight. It's major league baseball. You can't just blow the ball by people. Daniel Bard can't even do it. You have to deceive, and you're not Mariano Rivera. So you have to locate better and you have to switch pitches better. The stuff we saw today was stubbornness. And now here I am, feeling like I just saw Brady Quinn force the ball into an athletic secondary to lose a game against an otherwise-comatose Pete Carroll USC team. Good.

Speaking of which, who else is looking forward to Josh Beckett tomorrow?!?

The Next 10 Days Are Big

Starting today, the Yankees have two with Boston, two with Tampa Bay, three at NYM, and three at Minnesota, with no off days. As I discussed last week, the schedule gets markedly easier for a few weeks after that. The Yankees are pretty nicked up, but are hopefully slowly getting healthier. Getting through these next 10 games in good shape would be huge.

That won't be easy. Games with Boston are always intense, and the two teams don't see each other again until August. It's only two games, but you want to play well. Tampa Bay is the best team in all of baseball, and head-to-head games against them are going to be critical in deciding playoffs scenarios, just as is the case with Boston. Right around this time last year, the Yankees had Monday/Tuesday games against Boston and Wednesday/Thursday games against Tampa Bay (which is unique to have that two years in a row), and they lost all four. They'd do well not to do that again this year. The Mets play the Subway Series like it is the World Series, so you always have to be ready to play those games. Minnesota is just a good baseball team, and while the Yankees dominate the at home, it isn't necessarily like that on the road. The Yankees will have to play good baseball the next 10 days if they want to get wins. Nothing getting handed to them, that's for sure. Considering the health issues, you'd have to be happy with 5-5. If they could get to 6-4 that would be outstanding.

It's also a big 10 days for the Red Sox. They have two at NYY, two with Minnesota, three at Philly, and three at Tampa Bay. That's a tougher schedule over that period than the Yankees have. Eight road games with the teams with the three best records in baseball, including two in their division with the other being the best team in the National League is not fun. Then two sprinkled in with the team with the fourth best record in baseball. No joke, particularly because the Red Sox have not been playing great baseball.

The schedule also gets easier for the Red Sox after these 10 games. If they could find a way to go 5-5, or better yet 6-4, that would be rock solid and maybe that is what helps them take off. They'll have to get better pitching than they have been getting. That is absolutely the key. Every offense they are facing can put crooked numbers on the board, and has enough pitching that you can't expect your offense to put up enough runs to make up for sub-par pitching. If the Red Sox don't play well these next 10 days, it's too early to make any declarations. But they certainly need these games to go well so that they aren't in a bad spot going forward. If they can get out of these 10 games in good shape, they have a chance to feast on some lesser teams for a few weeks and start moving right up the standings.

Enjoy the great baseball everybody.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Rocket Man

First, just in case people want to talk about it (I doubt it because if they did they would have hijacked yesterday's thread), let me write a paragraph about the Dale Scott/Wednesday's game situation. Yes, the calls were heinous. And yes, they potentially decided the game. But we're still predicating this off of the assumption that Ortiz would have gotten a hit. Not exactly a sure thing. But a few points: 1) umpires are human, and to a certain extent it is up to the team to make sure that the game doesn't come down to an umpire's call. Not scoring against Shawn Marcum probably hurt more than Dale Scott's bad strike zone. 2) Pat has talked about this before, but umpires really have no accountability for really anything. Are there sanctions against consistent poor umpiring performances, or do people just look at the Questec charts? Are salary considerations based on this? I have to think that we're talking about union labor and therefore salary considerations are based more on tenure than anything else. I mean, CB Bucknor and Tim Tschida still have jobs. 3) Finally, this was not an example of umpires on power trips, trying to make the game all about them. If that were actually the case, I would have written about it out of schedule last night.

Okay.

The Lebron situation after last night's basketball game was unbelievable. I cannot believe he repeatedly disappeared in this series. Pat thinks the word "disappeared" is unfair, because the guy still had a triple-double last night. I understand that at a certain point you can't do everything. But this is not like an ace throwing a shutout and losing. This is like the ace giving up 3 or 4 runs and losing. Bottom line is, a guy like MJ or like the rapist in Los Angeles, no matter what, makes it happen. The player did that in game three. So he's capable of it. But after game three, he didn't do it. At all. There were many instances where he simply didn't get open. You could see no urgency from the player. The player was very sloppy with his passes. And it seemed at times that he was trying to put the ball into his teammates' hands just to prove a point that it's everyone but him f'ing it up.

People have recently tried to compare the player to Arod. Everything about him being the biggest star in the world, the "chosen one" stuff, and performing poorly when it counted because he wasn't a team player. Because he's a guy so mentally insecure that he gets himself into a funk. A guy completely out of touch with his teammates and with reality. Yes. There are points there. But there's a much closer parallel between Lebron and a baseball player. And it's not Arod.

It's Roger Clemens.

Let's not get it twisted there. Lebron was not a guy in a funk. He didn't look like he was pressing. He just looked like he was in a coma. No intensity. The sloppy play, turnovers, and the fact that he wasn't hogging the ball is indicative of that. If Lebron were like Arod, he would have taken the ball nonstop and shot terribly.

Let's think about Clemens's shortcomings. The 1986 World Series? The player didn't want the ball when it counted. There was a questionable injury (a blister) that he says was there and others said wasn't there. He apparently took himself out of the infamous Game Six. Sounds a lot like a questionable elbow injury that nobody really knows is real or not. Clemens handed it over to his bullpen. So did Lebron. Repeatedly in this series. And Lebron's bullpen, like Clemens's, was just not good enough. Even the "weak supporting cast" argument is relevant. Roger's supporting cast in the late eighties was not good enough. But the star player was so good that it shouldn't matter when he's playing.

The blowout game last Friday looked a lot like Clemens imploding on a large scale in 1999 in the ALCS. In both situations, you looked at the star player and asked yourself, "hello? Do you understand that this is the most important game of your life?" Look at Pedro. And look at Garnett, Rondo, Allen, whoever. They elevate their game when it counts. Arod tried to do that. Lebron hid in a corner. And so did Clemens for a very long time.

Lebron's narcissism is not exactly like Arod's either. I mean, Arod wouldn't have said something publicly like what Lebron said a few days ago, something along the lines of "when I play poorly, I feel sorry for myself." He said last night that he's going through nightmares "individually." He's a lot realer than Arod's pre-manufactured, ingenuine comments saying "nuh-uh, I am a team player." The "chosen one" nonsense is a little bit like the centaur stuff, but it more closely resembles the "I'm a tough boy from Texas" thing. Arod certainly always wants it to be all about him, but he tries to hide it. With Lebron and with Clemens, they want to be the center of the story, and they don't hide it. Lebron has done everything except for contact Suzyn Waldman from George Steinbrenner's box. Enjoy New York.

I especially like the fact that Kevin Garnett has become the Dave Stewart to Lebron's Clemens. The Jeff Pearlman book about Clemens alleged that Clemens literally hated Dave Stewart. Stewart was in Clemens's head. Completely and totally. It was Stewart against whom Clemens folded on a pretty consistent basis. Lebron doesn't seem to hate Garnett, but I'm sure the "I'm better than you" trash talking has contributed to the past chippiness between these two teams. It also has just happened that more often than not, Lebron has had to go through KG just as Clemens has had to go through Stewart. With poor results.

Eventually, Roger Clemens ended up signing with a supporting cast good enough to win his title. At this point, he was probably not the best pitcher on the earth anymore. But his good but not overwhelming performances when it counted could be hidden because his supporting cast was good enough to hide it. Lebron could have accomplished it himself with the team he had. He had Shaq. He had Varejao, whom the ESPN guys apparently have more than just a man-crush on. Shoot, they were good enough in the regular season, wasn't he?

Pedro Martinez in 1999 didn't ultimately win it all. (Ironically, Clemens and supporting cast did.) But Pedro Martinez, like Jordan, like the rapist in Los Angeles, dialed back when it counted. Lebron did not implode like Arod. But he disappeared.

Like Clemens.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Injuries, Pitching, And Scheduling

The Yankees are 22-11, and nearly 20% of the way through the season they continue to play .667 baseball. They have lost only one series of their first 10, and they send their ace, C.C. Sabathia, to the mound tomorrow to try to keep that streak going by getting a split in Detroit. The continued winning has been even more impressive across the last two weeks or so, as the Yankees have been hit by the injury bug. Thankfully nothing overly serious where any player is anticipated gone for more than a month or so, but a lot of those types of injuries can have a cumulative effect.

That effect started to show itself ever so slightly with the Yankees losing three straight games for the first time this season between Sunday and the first game Wednesday. That was bound to happen at some point, and may have anyway, but the injuries certainly did not help. Most notably on offense. There is no way around it, the Yankees' offense is short right now by their standards. That's even the case when you play all of the healthy regulars, so when you rest one, let alone two, regulars, it is even more noticeable. This hasn't become a huge problem yet. The Yankees offense still has a lot of horses relative to other teams. But they aren't playing according to the same expectations as most other teams, and they aren't in the same division as most other teams. They are going to have less games where they score major runs while Granderson and Johnson or out, and that typically results in less winning. Which is a problem.

The Yankees upcoming schedule adds wrinkle of intrigue to this. Their next 14 games are vicious. One more at Detroit, three at home vs. Minnesota, two at home vs. Boston, two at home vs. Tampa Bay, three at NYM, and three at Minnestoa. One off day. However, their next 15 games are soft on paper. Four at home vs. Cleveland, three at home vs. Baltimore, three at Toronto, three at Baltimore, and three at home vs. Houston. One off day.

If the Yankees can get through these next 14 games without tanking, they could put themselves in a very good position. They've given themselves a cushion for a change, and if they can maintain or increase that against a tough part of the schedule they should be in good shape. Not just because they will have weathered a difficult two weeks schedule-wise, but because the start of the weaker part of the schedule should coincide with a return of some of the injured players, which would be a nice extra boost. So right now it's really all about getting through these next 2.5 weeks. You may think this is an over analysis for mid-May, but after these combined stretches totaling 29 games, we'll be 19 games from the halfway point of the season. That is not insignificant.

So with an offense that is potentially not as reliable or as powerful as usual, how do you navigate this part of the schedule? With pitching. In that way the double-header yesterday has put the Yankees in an interesting position. Originally, Javy Vazquez was scheduled to next pitch Sunday against the Twins at Yankee Stadium. That's probably the toughest lefty lineup in baseball in a stadium that favors lefty hitters. That's a bad match-up for any righty, let alone one that has mostly struggled as Vazquez has. With the rainout, the Yankees now need a different starter for Sunday, and it will likely be Sergio Mitre. That's not a much better match-up for him (although he does a better job of keeping the ball on the carpet, which should help against a lefty heavy team in stadium with a short porch in right), but you'd rather have Mitre in a tough match-up than Vazquez right now, because the results are not under a microscope. That would set Vazquez and Hughes to pitch against Boston, Sabathia and Burnett against Tampa, Pettitte, Vazquez, and Hughes against the Mets, and then Sabathia, Burnett, and Pettitte against Minnesota.

But I'm wondering if a slight adjustment doesn't best benefit the Yankees and one of their players who they are trying to get right, Javy Vazquez. He pitched very well today. One good start does not erase two average ones and three atrocious ones preceding it. It was more the way he did it, however. Attacking the zone, particularly with his fastball, throwing 66 of 97 pitches for strikes. Aggressive with his stuff, particularly with his fastball, inducing 16 swings and misses, 10 on the fastball, both of which I believe are his best marks of the season. It was still only one start, though. The key now is to build off of it.

The Red Sox Monday really isn't such a bad match-up for him. There two most dangerous hitters are right-handed, and Yankee Stadium has a huge left field to work with. He's going to have to pitch against a good team at some point. But the Yankees won't see the Red Sox again until August, and after the good start they've had it would be a shame to give anything back in the standings those two games. If they were to bump Javy again a few days, it would allow them to go Hughes and Sabathia against Boston, Burnett and Pettitte against Tampa Bay, Vazquez, Hughes, and Sabathia against the Mets (who play those games like it's the World Series, by far the most annoying part of the regular season), and then finish up the tough part of the schedule with Burnett, Pettitte, and Vazquez in Minnesota.

What you accomplish here is getting your four best pitchers in the two short series against Boston and Tampa Bay. This is important because all of those games count twice in the standings. It's a slight risk in the short-term by taking a shot at Vazquez's confidence, especially coming off a strong start. But you have to think about the team, and it also goes back to the notion of building off today's start. Having Vazquez go out and get lit against Boston in front of a packed Yankee Stadium isn't going to help the team or the player. Pushing him back a few days to spacious city field, and against a team from a league he has had decidedly more success again, could be a win-win for the team and the player. It could also be a key to getting the Yankees through this tough part of the schedule.

Phil Hughes has allowed 6 earned runs total in his 6 starts to start this season, good for 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA. He has allowed 22 hits in 39 innings, striking out 39 against only 14 walks. He has a 0.92 WHIP and batters are hitting .165 against him. 20% of the way through the season, he's probably been the best starter in the American League. If he can stay healthy, and continue to do anywhere close to this, the Yankees are watching a high-end starter develop right before their eyes. That's beyond huge both for this season and moving forward. At 23 years-old, this is why you have to show patience. We still don't know what he's going to end up doing, you have to wait and see. But the 2010 season has been encouraging to an incredible extent thus far, and is certainly evidence of why you should be willing to wait and see with guys who have this much talent, even if there are struggles early.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

It Just Doesn't Feel That Way

Did you know that the Red Sox have won seven out of their last nine? As much as it feels like the opposite, that is actually true. The two losses, because they're blowouts against the Yankees, are probably the most memorable of the last nine games. And the fact that before said nine games, the team got swept by the Orioles probably also doesn't help. But this team is playing fairly well against bad teams like the Blue Jays and the Angels, who look like they've never played baseball before. Some commentary about the pitching:

1. Jonathan Papelbon, given the theory that this team is going to be in a lot of one-run games, is possibly the most important player on this team this year. And the developments regarding this player have been possibly the best news the Red Sox have provided this year. He's not only 9-for-9 in saves, but he's recording these saves cleanly. A lot more velocity on the fastball. Uses more than one pitch--we even saw a slider the other day! He's also only walked one in his last seven outings. The Papelbon we've seen on this 7-for-9 streak is probably the best Papelbon we've seen for at least two years. Also worth at least mentioning that the two guys in front of him have also been good. As far as the bullpen goes, lately it's just been the scrubs (Schoeneweis, Delcarmen) pitching poorly. And that is to be expected.

2. Jon Lester realized on April 28th that spring training was over. In his last three starts, he has allowed three earned runs, two of which were on bombs during his erratic fourth inning on Sunday. I think it was Pat who said that Lester was the stopper on Sunday, and looking at the way Beckett and Lackey have been throwing, he's probably the only guy on this staff who can be trusted as the stopper. In that fourth inning, he gave up two bombs but also struck out the side otherwise. But his command has been exceptional and he's the only really reliable guy in this rotation right now.

3. Daisuke Matsuzaka. It is probably a coincidence that all the Scott Boras guys on this team are the most enigmatic players on the team. Number Two, Beltre, Nancy, Varitek, and Matsuzaka all have their strange stories. But Matsuzaka--where the F did THAT come from last night? The sarcastic answer--and possibly the right answer--is probably "Toronto," but no matter how bad the Blue Jays are, the way he located the ball last night would have resulted in zero walks against any team. Pinpoint accuracy, best fastball of the year, and an okay mix of pitches. The only thing that bums me out about the best performance he's turned in since his rookie year is the fact that the sycophants on sports radio (with the exception of Felger of course) will use this as leverage on their "VINATEIRI SHOULD PLAY EVRYDAY!!1" crusade. And yes, that is a Tom Menino Varitek/Vinatieri reference.

4. John Lackey. At least he's not Dana Eveland.

5. Josh Beckett. I haven't seen an implosion like that since...well, the Cleveland Cavaliers last night or the Boston Bruins the night before. I texted Pat in the second inning that Beckett was going to end up on the DL after this start, because the Blister Curveball was in action. There's no word about Beckett's problematic right middle finger, but he's apparently going to miss his next start with a sore back. They say it's because he hurt it doing batting practice. But who knows. Maybe it really is a back. Maybe it's a blister, avulsion, cut, or whatever the team wants to call it. Or maybe he's got Troy Percival Syndrome (you suck so bad that you're going on the DL). Because Friday night didn't seem like a physical thing. It seemed completely mental.

I think the sixth inning Friday night is something we're going to see on NESN over and over again for a long time. But is the Swisher home run that made it all come crashing down really something out of the ordinary for Beckett? He gives up a lot of home runs, and very often recovers well after doing so. Is it because he felt the run-prevention offense can't score four runs (correct) and that freaked him out because he has to be perfect? Or is it because he had a back or a blister problem, then tried to overpower the Yankees using brute force? I feel like we're going to see the bases-loaded HBP against Jeter over and over and over again. Probably even moreso in New York.

Hopefully the run preventers will win tonight and restore some people's hopes that they are a playoff contender. Because (against Detroit, New York, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and Tampa) they very well might lose their next thirteen.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Who Does Number Two Work For?

The whispers about the Red Sox' "injured" left fielder are getting louder.

A few weeks ago I heard Tony Massarotti insinuate that the outfielder formerly known at 46 is taking his sweet time to return to the lineup and that it's starting to piss off the Red Sox' organization. Apparently Number Two doesn't want to play at 99 percent. Meanwhile, despite some semi-inspired play on Sunday and possibly Monday night, this team's season is going down the drain with a 4-A player playing in center. And Number Two is continuing to sit. His return is seeming to never come.

And why would this be?

One word: Arbitration.

Number Two, who (by the way) is the first major leaguer to hire Scott Boras after Boras orchestrated the centaur's opt-out during the 2007 World Series, is eligible for a pretty big raise after the 2010 season. He's in his first year of arbitration eligibility after this year, and if Number Two decides to play a few weeks at 85-99 percent instead of straight-up 100%, he might not hit .300. While his speed might win the Red Sox' run prevention machine a game or two, it also might cost Number Two money. And Number Two, given his choice of agent, doesn't care about winning a game or two for the run prevention machine. Number Two cares about Number Two's 2011 salary.

You heard it here first on May 10th. Number Two this winter will be the boy wonder's first arbitration case since he took over as general manager in 2002. And Number Two and the agent who works for the player can't wait. Given the stolen base totals and the artificially-high batting average, not to mention whatever Scott Boras enumerates for being good-looking and biracial, Number Two is going to make some good money. He might make more money than the Chicago division of Virtucon that makes miniature models of factories. Look it up.

After all, if the player were to play at 90% and finish the season with numbers like .280/9/47 with an OPS+ of 87, nothing on the stat sheet would be able to account for the fact that the numbers suck...except for the argument that the player sucks. However, if the player waits until he's 100% and hits .305/6/40 with an OPS+ of 115 in 105 games because he walks along with the called strike threes he takes down the middle, you see the low home run and RBI totals, but that's because he missed a ton of time because his brainless third baseman broke his ribs. The rate stats are there, though, and that's why Number Two deserves twelve million.

Plus, there isn't an arbitration judge in the world who is willing to hear the argument of "this player took his time to get back from his injury. This player is unwilling to play hurt. This player is a pussy." Not even Bill James can quantify the lost value of being soft.

As I have said for years--probably since the Arod incident...or since the JD Drew tampering debacle--the agent works for the player. The player knows what he's getting into when he hires the agent, and that goes double if you sign with the agent five weeks after he pulls that Arod stunt and 10% of his clientele fires his ass because of his behavior. I wrote in December 2007 that if a player hires this agent, the player cares more about his annual income than he cares about winning baseball games. After the Arod incident, it shows that the player cares more about the annual income than the game that is making him rich. After the Manny incident, it shows that the agent will work for the agent's bottom line sometimes at the expense of the player.

But Number Two is okay with that. Just as he's okay using this pseudo-injury as a way to enhance his salary while costing his team baseball games. Former Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell once said after JD Drew held out and played independent ball instead of accepting a signing bonus with the Phillies for almost twice the all-time record for any amateur player that Drew was "what's wrong with...America today." And Rendell was probably right.

Until now. Maybe we all thought once that Number Two worked for the Boston Red Sox. Wrong. Number Two works for Number Two.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Series Thoughts

The Red Sox staved off embarrassment tonight behind a strong performance from Jon Lester and an offense that lit up A.J. Burnett. And I do mean embarrassment, because the Yankees ran out lineups the first two games of this series that half-resembled your average Scranton Wilkes-Barre game and scored 24 runs total. You don't want to overstate it, because the Yankees started 0-8 against the Red Sox last year and cruised to a division title, and Boston is nowhere near that right now. But you just get the feeling that a sweep here, mostly because of the way the first two games went, would have really put them on their heels. For the Yankees, anytime you can win a series it's a success, and it's even better when you can do it in Fenway. Considering the injuries they've experienced in the last week or so (8 players in 8 games were either unavailable or had to leave a game), it's outstanding they were able to keep the winning going. A testament to the Yankees depth, yes, but no way Boston should be giving up the runs they gave up the first two games, especially in light of the run prevention mantra. Some other thoughts:

- Phil Hughes was downright surgical Friday night, as he has been almost the entire 2010 season. The most impressive thing for me was the way he matched Beckett early. Sitting over there in the visitors dugout there is little chance he missed how dominant Josh Beckett looked across the first three innings of that game. And he stood up to the challenge. That shows a lot of poise and competitiveness for a 23 year old in a difficult environment. He continues to dominate throwing over 80% 4-seam/cutter. That ratio will have to change eventually in order to keep hitters honest. For now it's a testament to the life he has on his fastballs. He's saying here it is hit it, and hitters still can't square it up. Considering the importance of being able to establish the fastball, this is huge. Pitch of the game was 3-1, Bottom 5, 2 outs, 1st and 3rd, Pedroia at the dish. Hughes misses up with a cutter. Then he just came in with a 96 mph fastball up to a great fastball hitter, and he beat him. Pedroia couldn't catch up and popped it up. When you're best is better than the hitters best, and you really believe that on every pitch, that's when you have a chance to go to the next level.

- Remember when Josh Beckett was a big game pitcher? Me neither. Can't live on 2003 and 2007 forever, and he certainly isn't anymore. His stuff was explosive the first few innings Friday, and I agree with Francona that is probably the best I've ever seen him, and I've seen him going good. And then he just lost it. It was like after Swisher hit the 3 run shot it was an inconvenience for him to be pitching. He was almost flippant during that 6th inning meltdown. It happens to every pitcher, but it happens to him a lot, especially against the Yankees. He now has a 5.96 career ERA against them over 19 starts and 116.1 innings, which is no small sample. If there's anything us Yankees fans can do to help finance another extension for this guy, let us know.

- A Red Sox had to get hit on Saturday. It didn't matter whether Beckett did it intentionally or not. He hit two Yankees and was around the knees and head multiple times. Good job by C.C. Sabathia doing it, and doing it the right way. Good job by Pedroia accepting it and getting right down to first. The only thing I would have changed is the timing. Pedroia and Youkilis are the obvious targets, and it's flip a coin between the two. But since Pedroia was batting in front of Martinez and Youkilis, and Youkilis was batting in front of Lowell and Drew, how about hitting Youkilis? I understand there were two outs with Pedroia and you don't know if you'll ever get to two outs with Youkilis. But I'd rather hit Youkilis with no outs and those two coming up behind him than Pedroia with two outs and the other two coming up.

- Related, McCarver was particularly lost on Saturday. He was harping on not understanding the retaliation, because he didn't think Beckett did it on purpose. Again, that doesn't matter. Purposeful or not, he did it which is what does matter. A few innings later McCarver commented that one of Aceves' pitches looked like a splitter. Then he concluded that since it looks like a splitter, he thinks that's what it was. Aceves does not throw a splitter, he throws a change-up. It happens to be his best pitcher, and it's pretty nasty, which is why it looks like a splitter. Here's an idea. When you're the color analyst, and a lot of your analysis is going to be on the work of the pitchers (especially as a former catcher), find out what pitches every pitcher on both teams throw. That way you don't have to guess. It's not hard. I can probably tell you every pitch every pitchers on both teams throws, and I can guarantee you if I was calling a series I'd find out whatever I didn't know. Not done yet, McCarver went on an extended chat about what the plural for "dove" was, doves or dove. It was a blowout, and there were doves on the field, but come on. Ever heard of one of the most famous Christmas songs ever, where they say "two turtle doves"?

- Tough break for C.C. one out away from the win, but the right call by a lot to take him out. I'd rather have the Red Sox come back and win 20-6 than have anything happen to C.C., let alone trying to get a win out of it. Still, he's been so great early would have been nice to have seen him get this one since he was all set up.

- The big talk with A.J. Burnett all season so far has been the lack of his curveball. He was doing just fine without it. Then he finally found it last time out, and threw his best game of the season. I had actually thought his inability to find his curveball had been a good thing, because it allowed him to see how dominant he can be by locating his fastball. Now that he found the curveball, he was too quick to go to it tonight and the results were horrific. Still very much in the game at 2-0 with 2 outs and runners on 1st and 2nd, Burnett doubled up on his curveball to David Ortiz with 2 strikes. This is a guy who can't hit a fastball right now, let alone Burnett's fastball, unless he absolutely knows it's coming. Sure enough, the count went full, Ortiz knew it was coming and he hit it. Burnett has been able to stay away from this type of situation this year but not tonight. Sometimes you're not going to have your fastball, tonight was one of those nights, Burnett knows it and that happens. You have to try to shake it off and go back to what was working in his first 6 starts. The bigger concern is that the fastball obviously isn't everything. Since coming to the Yankees he has a 3.09 ERA in 35 starts at parks not named Fenway. He has an ERA of almost 12 in 5 starts at Fenway. At some point the game may actually matter and he'll need to pitch well there.

- Very nice pick up performance from Jon Lester tonight. Once he gets going it's tough to stop. So naturally tough on lefties and the cut-fastball to righties sometimes seems to make him almost tougher against them. Such a vicious pitch.

- The fact that the Yankees got Nick Swisher for almost nothing, and are paying him relatively little, continues to be incredible. He and Kevin Long worked to refine his swing this winter, Swisher committed to it, and the results are noticeable both in form and results. He's much quieter at the plate from both sides, and covering the plate with impact swings much better. The season is not yet 20% done and he has 7 homers and 24 RBI. With the weight loss he is playing much improved defense as well. Huge bonus for this team.

- If the Yankees' played 81 games in Fenway Park 1,100 runs would at the very least be in play every single season. I'm convinced. They'd be on pace to score 567 in half a season there this year, and that's against the best pitching staff and best defense in baseball. Imagine if they got a crack at everyone there. Just sayin'.

- Good for Dallas Braden today. And I mean that. Pitching a perfect game is always going to be special, Braden is only the 19th person to ever do it. But he didn't have it easy losing his mother in High School, and to be able to do it on Mother's Day, with his grandmother there to watch it, it's all the more special. Seriously, with all of this going on, who cares that Alex Rodriguez ran over the back of a mound and they've had a back and forth about it? What he accomplished today has nothing to do with any of that, and it really shouldn't even factor in. It's too bad a lot of the media is talking about it (and the sort of have to), but a good job by both players either not saying anything or saying the right things. It remained about Dallas Braden doing one of the rarest things you can ever do on a baseball field under a special set of circumstances. Good for him.

Run Prevention

Who needs Photoshop when screenshots get the job done?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Elite.


Congratulations to Mark Teixeira, whose bomb off of OF Jonathan Van Every's 76-MPH fastball in a 12-3 game helped him eclipse the .200 mark on the season.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I Don't Party in Lynn, Massachusetts

I apologize to anyone who's already heard this story, but it is one of my all-time favorite stories. A few years ago, I went to a New Year's party with the Franchise. (This is also how the story of "why Coco Crisp gets the free pass for life" starts, but you'll have to wait until the book comes out to read that one in its entirety). Her friend's boyfriend lives in Lynn, MA, and he was hosting the party. Let's just say Lynn has a reputation as a rough neighborhood. There's a campy rhyme out there somewhere, and a few years ago they tried to change their name to Ocean City or Ocean Park or something because Lynn has such a bad name. But sure enough, as 07 turned into 08, I was in Lynn. And here is why I no longer party in Lynn.

At this party, a Taser was used as a toy. The kids there were shooting each other with a Taser. One kid got Tased like four times over the course of the night, and he was lying on the ground for about 15 minutes after every time he was hit. People might not believe us, but this really did happen. I was not hit, but seeing kids getting Tased every time they said something stupid made me want to keep my mouth shut and mind my own business.

From January 2, 2008 on, it's been my philosophy to not party in Lynn under any circumstances.

Maybe after some high 17-year-old brat gets Tased at Citizens Bank Park, that would similarly make people who would otherwise do it think, "oh, well, I shouldn't hop out onto the field." There should be a universal rule: You disrupt the game, you get Tased. I bet that would be enough of a disincentive. It's kept me out of Lynn.

This is obviously becoming a more relevant issue. Eighteen years ago, it cost the Red Sox a game against the Yankees because a drunk moron jumped onto the field as a Yankee flew out to end the game. Umpires called time before the pitch was thrown, but it was thrown, hit, and caught nonetheless. It was ruled out of play and the Sox bullpen blew it. We've seen streakers go through the Super Bowl, and I was at a game where a fan walked into the batter's box between at-bats with a giant inflatable bat.

But lately we've seen Royals coach Tom Gamboa get pummeled by two drunk White Sox fans. We've seen a defrocked priest walk across a NASCAR track and then tackle the leader of the Olympic event twenty miles in. What if the giant inflatable bat guy had a knife instead? Walking onto the field is not only an inconvenience for everyone, but it is a serious safety risk for both the players and the moron going out there. Using a Taser as an automatic punishment with no questions asked would make people think twice before acting like idiots. They also would have saved a Volkswagen, a TV tower, and Happy Gilmore's shoulder if they were used in 1996. Tasers don't kill anyone or even harm them long-term. They're a fitting punishment for the crime, bro.

ON MATSUZAKA, because I know people are going to want to talk about it, it's time to start worrying about the guy who started for the other team today. Kazmir singlehandedly ran up the score against the entire state of Texas when he was in high school. He threw over 100 innings at age 19 and 20. He hit 186 innings when he was 21. And now look at him. He's 26 and people think he's a has-been. He doesn't throw 97 anymore, or anything close to that. He doesn't dominate the Red Sox anymore--he doesn't really dominate anyone.

Matsuzaka is 29. When he came to the United States, he was known for his work ethic, but was known more for his workload. He pitched an 18-inning game in high school, and did a crapload of innings in real games in between the 200-pitch bullpen sessions (yes I wrote that correctly). Stat-heads warned that he was the all-time leader in pitcher abuse points for someone his age, and that it might eventually catch up with him. Two games is a little too early to start jumping off the Tobin Bridge, but we're now talking about two games plus an entire year. This is me worrying that Matsuzaka is Japanese for Kazmir. Except potentially much, much worse.

THAT SAID, if they hold on to win this game from behind, that is a very good sign. And also a sign that the Angels very well might suck.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pitching, Pitching, And More Pitching

- The Yankee starting pitching thus far this season has been incredible. Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte, and Hughes are 14-1 with a 2.05 ERA in 22 starts. This pace is unsustainable, but getting out of the gate this fast provides a great cushion. The hope is that as they start to regress, Vazquez, Robertson, Marte, and certain members of the offense get going, so the wins keep coming. Hopefully they won't regress too much, because this is great to watch, and more importantly is the single biggest reason this team is off to a 19-8 start, which also happens to be one of the four best in Yankees' history in terms of series won as they've won eight of their first nine. Not only is this awesome, but it couldn't be much different from a lot of the starts the team has gotten off to recently.

- Has there been a better move in the last few years, when considering total risk/reward, than the Yankees passing on Johan Santana and getting C.C. Sabathia? This could all change tomorrow with something unforeseen happening, which I hope doesn't happen, but for now this has been the single biggest non-move/move for the Yankees in quite some time. Totally changed the direction of the organization. You can't overlook the fallacy of the predetermined outcome, but at the time C.C. Sabathia was leading the Yankees to the 2009 World Series Santana was recovering from surgery. As Sabathia is off to a quick start in 2010, Santana is giving up 10 earned runs to the Phillies in 3.2 innings in what was a very big rubber game for the Mets. You could argue that the Yankees make the 2008 Playoffs with Santana, and that's valid. Maybe if they get in they mix it up, anything can happen and with Santana and Mussina up top they would have been tough. But since then this has been all C.C. all the time. I'm not saying any of this to malign Santana, just pointing out how critical this decision was.

- I'm a pretty superstitious sports fan personally. However I do not believe in curses, the Sports Illustrated cover one included. That said it is extremely coincidental that since the Core Four was on the cover released last Wednesday, Posada, Rivera, and Pettitte have all suffered maladies. Regardless, the Yankees have caught the injury bug. Park was already on the DL, Granderson joined him Saturday, and now the aforementioned three, who for the time being are not on the DL and hopefully that will continue to be the case and the injuries aren't too serious.

- Related, the Yankees have done a tremendous job building a roster that has depth. Cervelli is a pleasure. Thames is doing his job. Winn is contributing in Granderson's absence. Joba is able to step in and close games with Mariano unavailable. Even amongst the starters, when certain guys are down, others are able to pick them up. When the A Lineup is out there, pretty much everyone can beat you at any time.

- Big weekend coming in Fenway. Great test for Hughes on Friday. Yankees need to be aware that this is about the time Jon Lester gets going and doesn't look back, as he began to show Tuesday night. It's also about the time Beckett starts pitching well for the first time before going back to stinking again. The goal for the Yankees, as almost always, should be not to get swept at Fenway and give too much back in the standings. However, the teams see each other five times in the next two weeks, then not again until August 6-8. A lot is going to happen in that time no matter what happens in these next five games. Last year was as much proof of that as ever between these two teams. The Yankees have a chance to put some distance between them (and Tampa) and the Red Sox as I mentioned the other day. They'll have to play well to do it, and the injuries as well as the Angles are potentially making that tougher to do. Lot of good match-ups, should be a fun series.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Hustlin Schedule

Quote of the Day:

"Somebody has to sit."
-Terry Francona on why it's a problem to DH Mike Lowell. Source: Boston.com Extra Bases.

There probably isn't much of a problem with somebody sitting. Especially if, in the case of tonight's game, the guy sitting could possibly mean the team gets two extra offensive innings. Think about that. Two strikeouts and two GIDPs is six outs. Mr. H once referred to Mike Timlin as "Old Yeller." Well, Ortiz is now Old Yeller plus the irresponsible use of vitamins and supplements. The other eight Sox beat the Angels with literally six offensive innings tonight. Probably the best news of the entire year.

Bottom line is, Mike Lowell's hustlin schedule should resemble Rick Ross's--as in, it should be everyday. This is 15% because of Ortiz (whom I have already talked about enough) and 85% because of Lowell. I wouldn't quite go nuts to the point where I'd agree whole-heartedly to Lowell's comments about how 11 years of production gives him a license to start. Because you don't even need that much data. Nobody cares how well you did in 2004 except for arguably Theo Epstein.

Mike Lowell has been extremely productive. On the aggregate. LATELY.

And we're not just talking about this year where he's rocking a .317 spot. Let's just say the record was wiped clean, for better or for worse, when he had his hip surgery. Since the surgery, Lowell was overused, playing almost everyday at the beginning of the year before he was fully recovered. Then, once the team acquired Victor Martinez, he had become as recovered as he will be--but Francona underused him.

The overall result: The guy still hit .290 and had twice as many hits as he had strikeouts. He very nearly matched his pre-surgery numbers (exceeded them, probably) in 2008. Just imagine how good he would have been if he were used more responsibly in April and May and if he had been played like a guy near 100% at the end of the season. Hitting .300 with 25 home runs is NOT out of the question.

Yes, Lowell is a year older this year, and expecting .300 with 25 home runs may be a little too much to offer. But it's not inconceivable that the guy will hit .285 with 15-20 home runs from here on in. After all, half of his games are played at Fenway. While this is not going to land him among the best designated hitters in baseball by a long shot, it is something that will enhance this team's ability to score runs. Unless Drew keeps on using the whole field like he has in the last two weeks, Mike Lowell very well might be the third-most productive member of the Red Sox' lineup. Yes, you'll see a lot of double plays. But keeping your third-most productive player off the field is a problem.

Especially if it's so the team can give more at bats to the hitting version of 2008 Mike Timlin. If Ortiz turns it around, he will be as good as Lowell. Lowell is as good as Lowell is. Immediately.