Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mid-Week Roundup

I had a nice, short, clean post lined up for tonight. A little A.J., a little Rodriguez, a little Lackey, and a little Knicks/Celtics. I'm still going to talk about those things, but between lining this post up in my head and actually starting it Joe Girardi did some ridiculous pitching managing so now I'm going to talk about that too. At least it relates to my first planned talking point, Burnett.

We all know about A.J. Burnett's solid performance two years ago, we all know how terrible he was last year, and we all know how important to this year's rotation. His first two starts have been encouraging. Tonight he continued to be impressive, even more so than his first two outings. He allowed no runs on only 4 hits and a walk through 6 innings, while striking out 5. At the end of 6, it was 7-0 Yankees, raining, cold, and because Burnett needed 53 pitches to get through the first few innings before settling down, his pitch count was just shy of 100. There was little reason to bring him out for the 7th under these circumstances (it's a different story on a temperate, clear, July day). Bullpen has been off for two days. And as always with Burnett, you want him to end on a high note. But the way he was cruising it's also totally fine if you do bring him out for the 7th, with the caveat that you have to get him out at the first sign of trouble. In other words, after getting the first out of the 7th, don't let him go double, homer, walk, homer so that not only is his outing partially ruined, but most importantly the Orioles are now back in the game. This makes no sense.

Moving on to Burnett himself, he's 3-0 and has been quality each time out, getting progressively better in each start. He was dominant tonight before the 7th inning thing, which I can't totally blame on him (even though he does need to get those outs if asked, so he's partially on the hook). I'm not getting overly excited, because he was 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA after 6 starts last year. But because it went bad after a good start last year doesn't mean it will this year, and you always want to get off to a good start. Further, the difference this year is the changeup. He's not relying on having a great fastball and curveball this year, and if not becoming a one pitch pitcher. He is using a legitimately nasty changeup, perhaps for the first time in his career on a consistent basis. It has good velocity difference from his fastball, late fade, and he gets it down in the zone for a swing and miss but can also throw it for a strike. It's almost ridiculous how nasty the pitch has been given how scarcely he's used it previously. It's really helping to neutralize lefties, and gives him a different look/option from just fastball/curveball if he doesn't want to use one in a certain spot or flat out doesn't have one of those pitches on a given day. Big development, hopefully it continues.

The Yankees are a different lineup with Alex Rodriguez. I know this is an obvious statement given that he's one of the best players in history, but it's always palpable when he's out of the lineup for even one game and then back in the next. The lineup just LOOKS different without him batting cleanup. I'm not really getting at just the production, which again is the obvious part. More so I am just noting that after some up and down years (despite having fantastic production), he's finally found his place with the Yankees. He's their cleanup hitter. Not just because that's where he hits, but because that's who he is for them. This didn't happen recently, probably from 2009 on he became this guy for this team. But he is definitely it now.

Big break for the Red Sox with the rainout tonight. Not just because they look like a team who needs a breather - and they'll get a two day one at that - but because they don't have John Lackey trying to prevent their third sweep in four series this year. In addition, they get to skip Lackey until they get to Oakland, which is a huge ballpark and could help him out.

Knicks/Celtics get started on Sunday. I'm certainly not expecting a series win, just thrilled the Knicks are back in the playoffs and hoping for a good series. The good news for the Knicks is that they have two guys who are candidates for 40 on any given night, and as we see all the time in the playoffs big individual performances can shift series, even when one team is inferior to the other.

The bad news for the Knicks is that they do not matchup great with the Celtics defensively. Pierce crushes the Knicks, so I'm hoping D'Antoni does what he did in the second half the last time they played (before tonight) and puts Fields on Pierce, Billups/Douglas on Allen, and Melo on Rondo. This lets you get your best perimeter defender on Boston's best player (which should be Fields' focus this series), keep Melo off Pierce so he can stay out of foul trouble and focus on offense, and also let Melo play way off Rondo, turn him into a jumpshooter, and use his length to try to bother him. The downside to this is that when Billups is in the game he has to chase Allen around, which is not ideal. But I think it's the best of any option given this lineup. When Douglas is in you lose some offense, but I think the defensive matchup becomes even better under this strategy.

Conversely, I hope Pierce is glued to Melo all series, and that Melo's younger legs wear him down to take something away from him on the offensive end. I'm sure Green will see a lot of time on him, but the more Pierce on Melo the better for the Knicks. Should be fun to watch unfold, good series with some good storylines. Go Knicks.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

PF

I don't want to talk about the Red Sox, so I'm going to talk about the Celtics, even though I don't really want to talk about them, either.

Here's the thing about this series--the Knicks have the two best players. That's a very rare situation for a team that is the underdog. I have no doubt that it will be an interesting series and am confident it will go either six or seven games, with the Celtics having a 55-60% chance of winning.

I imagine some people will criticize that as a conservative estimate. They may be right. But all it takes is for the Knicks to steal one game in Boston and all of the sudden there's a lot of pressure on a Celtics team that hasn't played well in three months, would no longer have home court advantage, and has struggled mightily to score in recent weeks.

--the Gunn

the gm at work said...

Pat,

1. Burnett 3, Red Sox 2. Good insight as always.
2. On Lackey, there are many things to take from this. The first one is a message to the player to stop F-ing around and start pitching. Francona's had some pointed words about this player, and this is almost like he's being benched. It's also (as the DA Show brought up last night) a move where the Red Sox are interested in putting together winning streaks, specifically one that gets them to 5-9, instead of the old configuration of preventing losing streaks by splitting up Beckett, Lackey, and Lebronsuzaka. I'd go into the BC football/Bruins hockey "play not to lose" rant, but that's not necessary. F BC.
3. Celtics need to lose the whine factor. I can't with confidence pick either them or the Bruins to win their first-round series.

Patrick said...

gunn,

i don't think the celtics having a 60% chance of winning is conservative. 55% maybe a little bit, but 60-40 is a pretty decent favorite.

i think an important thing is what you alluded to in your last paragraph. the knicks have no pressure. once the series gets going knicks fans will be up and down emotionally with every play, i'm sure. but in the big picture, the knicks are back in the playoffs, have two of the 10ish best players in the nba to build around at ages 26 and 28, and are a team that we know still needs work. if they can mix it up in the playoffs that's just a bonus.

the celtics, by contrast, are built to content for championships now, and with each passing year have less of a chance of winning with this core. so all the pressure is on them. this is really an ideal situation for the knicks and their fans.

that said, i don't see the celtics as a team that is going to panic if they split in boston to start the series. that's actually the primary reason i preferred playing the heat to the celtics in the first round, i thought there was a better chance of the heat getting tight going to the garden tied 1-1 (which the knicks have to do against either team if they want to be in the series). that, and the fact that paul pierce goes to another level against the knicks and always seems to find a way to beat us. but i think the celtics are too veteran to let a 1-1 split really bother them.

celtics in 5 or 7. if the knicks get it back to the garden for game 6 i don't see them losing that game because the place would be bananas. it would be an nba finals environment. but if the are able to win that game i think they'll be spent for 7.

Patrick said...

gm -

splitting up lackey, beckett, and matsuzaka seems like a very sound move to me. at least for the time being.

what do you mean the celtics need to lose the whine factor?

the gm at work said...

Team traded everyone's friend.

Anonymous said...

Good point about the rainout there, the Sox need a monsoon season just to get their heads in order. The real story for Sunday is, of course, the first of four Real Madrid-Barcelona matchups in a span of two and a half weeks- there is no other equivalent. With that starting at 4 (I think) and the Celts at 7, a very strong Sunday of sports.

The important thing in this series, I think, is that the Knicks can actually match Boston's ability to close out games on both home and road courts with Melo- the Heat cannot close, the Bulls probably are too young to do so on the road, and the Magic/Hawks probably will never be in the position. The Melo as a closer factor is huge in this series because he gives New York the ability to steal a game that they get outplayed in at the death- an absolutely critical component of any upset.

On the defensive- eh hem!- side, the Knicks are probably just what Boston offense needed. Those matchups- particularly Melo on Rondo- look good on paper but in reality it would be a disaster for 44 minutes if Melo has to chase Rondo around the court. The Celtics just absolutely need to get a lead in these games, though, because those matchups DO scare me in the endgame where the Knicks might already have an edge with Melo, Amare, even 'Big Shot' Billups.

The home court stuff- I think it might not help the Knicks as much. Remember how jacked the Celts were in that first game? The MSG crowd might be so good, it works to the detriment of the home team as it will lift the visitors. But what do I know? I do hope to see a game 6 in this series, at least, as that game will be massive.

TC

Anonymous said...

A few thoughts,

- I too thought the rainout was a very good thing for the Sox. They were going to be swept no doubt.

- Excited for the Celtics/Knicks series. I don't think the Celtics have a long post season run in them but this should be a competitive and fun to watch series before they bow out in round 2 or 3 (should they actually beat the Knicks which I would say is 50-50)

PF- It would be hard to overstate how much the Perkins trade is being blown out of proportion here in Boston. Being that you lived in Maine for 4 years in college basically, you know how much traditional New England fans (like TC) like to overrate their own guys.

This is happening in Boston right now. In Kendrick Perkins, you have a 7 point 6 rebound guy that can't catch the ball and doesn't block shots.

Yet we hear things now like the C's can't win without him because he was great at defending the screen and roll, or because he was great friends with Rondo, or because he took the pressure off Garnett.

Was Perkins a good part of the chemistry here? No doubt. Do I think he helped Garnett be a fake tough guy by having his back in the paint? Yes.

But he just wasn't that good. To blame the demise of the Celtics on the KP trade is ridiculous. Right now he's being overrated here on a Tedy Bruschi/Mike Vrabel/Drew Bledsoe/Jacoby Ellsbury level and it's just dumb.

bandi

the gm at work said...

Guys,

Good stuff. Tim, do you at least feel a little embarrassed being an OG Liverpool fan and now having your team pretty much embody the current undeniable problem with Red Sox corporate culture? As far as the pout factor goes, I think Bandi is extremely correct about the Perkins thing, but do those guys buy into it as well? Do they think he was great? Because it's also virtually undeniable that there's about 40% of the crying on the Celtics right now as there is on the Red Sox. And 5% of the Red Sox crying is still a lot of crying.