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.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

PF

It continues to amaze me how similar AJ Burnett and Josh Beckett are. Both former Marlins. Both signed contracts for the same annual value. Their ERA+ numbers and win totals are almost identical (Beckett's are 114 and 107 and Burnett's are 111 and 104). And both of them absolutely get crushed by the Red Sox and Yankees.

--the Gunn

from the bronx said...

i don't mean to be a sore loser after last night because lester was really good (his cutter is a truly excellent pitch) and burnett was not, but the strike zone that tim mclelland was calling for the yankees was completely different than the one he was calling for the red sox, and it was wildly inconsistent.

a veteran umpire, but one of the worst games behind home plate i have seen in a long time.

PF said...

gunn -

couldn't agree more. the thing that is confusing about it - and i think this is almost indisputable - is that beckett is generally held in higher regard by most. no question, he had two huge postseasons, and no question, his one bigtime season is better than any single season burnett has had by a pretty good amount. but none of that was really all that recent, and as you pointed out the results are similar even with that considered. in fact, they've been trending in opposite directions. since the start of the 2008 season burnett has 35 wins, a 3.99, and 458 strikeouts in 473.1 IP. beckett has 30 wins, a 4.27 era, and 405 strikeouts in 427.2 IP. in the same division. i'm not saying this truly separates burnett, but clearly for 2+ years he's been the better pitcher. beckett being one of the elite pitchers in baseball is, for the time being, a very short-lived thing of the past.

i think the hope for yankee fans has to be that for burnett it's 5 starts in one park over a short period of time. since two games in a world series 7 years ago, the yankees have not discriminated in their pounding of beckett. he's had his fair share of good games against them, but they've knocked him around in fenway, in yankee stadium, wherever, pretty much every year for the last 5 years. burnett used to dominate in fenway, so hopefully he can get back to that. i'm not overly hopeful because the results are astounding in those 5 starts, but at least there is a track record of success. burnett has had no problem in yankee stadium against the sox, so the hope is that it's not the team as much as it's the park for whatever reason. with beckett it seems to be more about the team and the inconsistencies of his stuff.

bronx -

agreed, although i thought it was just more inconsistent for both teams. lester threw one pitch in particular to rodriguez with 2 strikes that seemed almost middle-middle and lester didn't get the call.

PF said...

three other yankees-related thoughts from last night:

- it's difficult to play marcus thames in left field. he mashes lefties but when he's playing left he seems just as likely to give whatever he does offensively back on defense. when he does nothing offensively (which is going to happen) like last night he ends up in the negative. it isn't the reason burnett imploded, but the ball he dropped to allow the first run to come in was barely above routine. that's a play that has to get made. the very next inning he was indecisive about where to throw a groundball by pedroia down the left field line (he had no chance to get scutaro at third and should have been throwing to second all the way), and instead of 1st and 3rd it was 2nd and third. having one runner to worry about stranding is markedly different than having two runners in scoring position with no out, especially since it takes away the double play. he's going to have to play out there sometimes as girardi said, so this needs to improve. but when they can, they should just DH him against lefties.

- tremendous job by romulo sanchez eating 3.2 innings of relief in his major league debut. he pitched very well allowing only one hit and one walk, striking out three with no runs, which is great anytime, but especially in your first career major league outing, at fenway park no less. but the most important thing was he took that game home. the yankees don't have a scheduled off day until two weeks from today, and they play detroit, minnesota, boston, tampa, and the mets in that time. saving the bullpen in a blowout is a very underrated, and incredibly valuable, thing. good job by him.

- similarly good spot out of francisco cervelli. with posada unavailable to catch since the middle of the game monday night, cervelli caught 5.5 games in a row (with an off day in the middle), including two day games after night games. posada is scheduled to catch tonight, so the yankees were able to get through the week without having to call up another catcher (which would have been somewhat of an issue because the injuries in other areas have created a roster crunch) because cervelli took the catching duties on his back. that would have been a contribution of and within itself, but the fact that he performed at the level that he did makes it even more impressive. he continues to be an outstanding asset for this team.

Anonymous said...

Gunn,

I would trade Josh Beckett, Clay Bucchholz, and Lars Anderson for A.J. Burnett, that's how bad Beckett is. He's bad- I would rather have Burnett.

The Sox just stink this year. It happens and I'm not going to get emotional about it. Let's spend the rest of this year figuring out who we keep moving forward.

On the positive side, we saw Lester be the stopper he needs to be last night, questionable strike zone aside.

Pat,

Speaking of embarrassing, how about you on Rajon Rondo? You could not have been more wrong about him. He is a very good player and just threw up 29 points 18 rebounds at 13 assists last night. Probably the best performance by a point guard in the playoffs in the last 25 years. I guess he only got the 18 rebounds because he plays with an aging Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen.

Usually when it comes to sports analysis I would trust you over anyone else, however you will occasionally develop an emotionally based aversion to certain players in rival cities and this totally clouds your judgment.

Anonymous said...

Bandi

Great point about Rondo. I know this is a baseball blog, but we've talked about hoops here before so I'm going to indulge for a minute. The Cavs are much better than the Celtics are (and they showed that during Game 3), much younger and much healthier (I don't want to hear anything about Lebron's elbow. He's perfectly fine. You can't shoot the ball from 26 feet or spike a lay-up off the back-board as hard as you can with a sore elbow. It's embarrassing how badly he's milked this situation) and yet the Celtics are tied right up in this series. Do I think the Celtics will win? No, I don't. In fact, they'll probably lose in 6 games. But that's two more than they should have played and certainly two more than they would have won with say Derek Fisher as their point guard instead of Rondo. Rondo is legitimately their best player and has been so good (22, 13, 8 for the series) that I'm legitimately proud of the effort that the Celtics have made against Cleveland. Win or lose the Celtics have shown fight and pride and that's more than can be said for teams like the Spurs, Jazz, and Hawks, all of whom are playing teams inferior to Cleveland (although a Lakers/Cavs series should be exciting).

--the Gunn

Anonymous said...

Gunn,

I'm shocked that we are on the same page. Oh wait, no I'm not because we're both real americans (as an aside, I gave my mom for mother's day a book called "A Patriots Guide to American History." It's 900 pages long and talks about how america is awesome rather than falling all over ourselves and apologizing for every bad thing that we've done. What can I say? Apologizing doesn't arouse me like it does the left).

Also, I recieved a text from Kaplan on Friday saying "wow, tough night for boston sports."

Of course, I had to gently remind that we actually had teams in multiple sports still competing. Just a Junior Varsity effort by Kaplan all around. Something I would expect from a pink hat interior design major at Lesley College but not something I would expect from a real fan. I'm sure that Pat, as a fellow NY fan, will not be too happy to hear that Kaplan felt he had to stoop to that level, and even then could not make it happen.

the gm at work said...

I'm not the biggest fan of either, but I'd rather have the blister curveball than the electric stuff. A good number crunch by Pat though. And it's time to stop talking about the 2003 World Series, just like it's time to stop talking about Javier Vazquez in the 2004 ALCS. It was seven years ago.

Girardi was barking at McLelland all night until he got tossed.

Marcus Thames was a disaster out there and I wonder if Anthony Claggett watched Romulo Sanchez last night.

I think the player on Cleveland hurt his elbow by having his arms spread wide open looking for a call. Go away. More about that player in tonight's post. Getcha popcorn ready.

jason said...

vertigo?