Thursday, August 31, 2006

Le Tigre...or Is That Blue Steel?

The Yankees scored one more run in today's rubber game of their series with the Tigers than they did in two games yesterday. The Tigers scored one less than their cumulative Wednesday total, which gave the Yanks a 6-4 win at the Stadium. Breaking out (we hope) was Alex Rodriguez, doubling to set up a run in the fifth inning, then blasting one out to left field in the seventh. Randy Johnson went eight plus innings, and pitched a good game, but was vulnerable to the longball--surrendering a two-run shot in the ninth to ex-Yank farmhand Marcus Thames that sent the Unit to the showers, and made for a slightly more tense appearance for Mariano Rivera than we would have hoped.

Still, all's well that ends well. The Yanks probably should have gotten a sweep against the Tigers, who have slumped in the second half. In the nightcap of yesterday's twinbill, the Yanks took a 3-2 lead into the ninth inning, before Scott Proctor gave up a really long ball to Craig Monroe, for a three-run shot and a 5-3 final. The Yanks won the early game by a 2-0 score, behind some great pitching from Chien Ming Wang, backed by Proctor and Rivera. Rivera got the late game off, but Everyday Scottie was called on for the double-dip and the save when Kyle Farnsworth was unable to answer the bell for the second game. The Yanks' free agent pitchers over the past couple of years sure have been hothouse flowers, haven't they?

I guess that's a segway, isn't it?


"Come on, don't be afraid, Carlo. Come on, you think I'd make my sister a widow? I'm Godfather to your son, Carlo...No, Carlo, you're out of the Family business, that's your punishment. You're finished. I'm putting you on a plane to Vegas...I want you to stay there, understand? Only don't tell me you're innocent. Because it insults my intelligence -- and makes me very angry."

--Either Brian Cashman talking to Carl-o Pavano about his latest injury, or what Michael Corleone told Carlo Rizzi just before Clemenza strangled him on the way to the airport.

What are we to make of Carl-o? Pavano, that is. He's been the man of a thousand owies over the past two years--out from June on last year with shoulder stiffness that didn't require surgery and never seemed to be properly defined as a tear of any part of his shoulder. Then, when it looked like he might be on his way back to the rotation, he had back pain. Then he fell on his ass, and that became a disabling buttocks injury. Then he had bone spurs in his elbow. At every point along the way, Carl-o seemed to take longer getting back to action than you'd expect. Spent a lot of time throwing on flat ground, that sort of thing.

So when it was revealed, after Pavano pitched six strong innings at AAA, that he had a pain in his side, it wasn't exactly a surprise. Some guys get what Will Carroll calls "cascade injuries"-- such as, a guy compensates by favoring an injured ankle, and winds up hurting his back; he then winds up shortening his stride to protect his back, and winds up putting pressure on his shoulder; he changes his arm angle to make things easier on his shoulder, and his elbow starts to hurt. Each thing the cascade guy does to compensate for his injury throws some other body part out of balance, causing it to be injured.

So it just looked like Carl Pavano had the Niagara Falls of all cascade injuries. Others seemed to believe that some of the injuries were exagerrated, that Pavano simply didn't want to play in New York. Then, it turned out that Pavano actually had broken ribs. Sustained in a car accident, a couple of weeks ago, that he didn't tell anybody about.

That's just bizarre. Since the injury's real--you can't fake broken ribs--and reports claim that pitching with the injury was putting stress on Pavano's shoulder (sound familiar) he's off the mound, and back on flat ground again. Maybe--maybe--he could be back on a mound in two weeks. Maybe he pitches for the Yanks as a reliever. Oh, whopee!

So what's left is Pavano's stunning lack of judgment, concealing the accident, and his teammate's derision, for a guy who always seems to stop a step away from getting back on a big league mound. Brian Cashman's investigating, and the press keeps floating the idea that the Yanks could void Pavano's contract--which, quite frankly, sounds far-fetched.

So, at least for this year, Carl-o's dead to us. Here's hoping the Yanks have a terrific insurance policy on this yutz.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Week in Review: Fade in the Stretch

Record for the Week: 3-4 (39 RA, 41 RS)
Overall: 77-52 (1st in AL East, 6.5 games ahead of Boston)

Player of the Week: Even in a short week for him (he only played 5 of 7 games) Bernie Williams deserves the honors for his monster Sunday performance--the best single-game performance of his career. Bernie has never had more total bases in one game, only bettered the 6 RBI he had on Sunday twice--each more than a decade ago. He only fell the triple shy of the cycle, and he had what some term a SuperCycle. Overall for the week, he hit .400/.500/.933in 18 PA. The runners-up? In a week with bad pitching for the Bombers, Chien Ming Wang stood out with a quality start, two runs in seven innings in the Yankees' win in Seattle. Johnny Damon (.370/452/.667) and Derek Jeter (.333/.412/.600) both hit two homers on the week.

Dregs of the Week: Alex Rodriguez had a viral infection and an otherwise miserable West Coast trip, "hitting" .125/.160/.250; other Yanks who didn't like the left coast are Craig Wilson (.211/.250/.263) and Melky Cabrera (.217/.308/.217). But the Dregs award this week...can we give it to the Yankee bullpen as a whole? After Monday's game, they really had a hard time of it, allowing 17 runs in 20 innings, overall. They were worked hard, and it showed. If we were forced to point fingers, it would be fair to say that Ron Villone and Kyle Farnsworth had bad weeks. Maybe.

Story of the Week: Twenty days, twenty-one games, 11-10 record. Usually, this would be bad news. But in this case, the Yankees' lead in the AL East grew by 4.5 games, while the team was just skating over .500. Not a bad bit of work , in three weeks.

The team's tired, and with good reason. This was a brutal stretch for a very veteran team. The pitching staff's bread and butter, Mike Mussina, went on the DL midway through this marathon. A-Rod got sick. Giambi finished the weekend with dehydration and "body cramps" whatever that is. Heck, even Carl Pavano got injured, and he wasn't even there. What a numbnut...

Anyway, after a well-earned day of rest, the Yankees return to the Stadium to finish out the month with the Detroit Tigers--like the Angels and White Sox, possible playoff opponents should the Bombers make the postseason. Given the sad-sack "messages" sent by dropping six of nine to those two teams this month, it's pretty important that the Yanks show they can beat a contender other than the Red Sox.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Please Observe the No-Gloating Sign

I haven't written in since Monday's Week In Review. A couple of reasons: first, I wrote up Sunday's Yanks/Red Sox game for Baseball Prospectus, which came in at a hefty 3,500 words; second, the team's been on the West Coast. West Coast games almost feel like they shouldn't count--the weeknight matchups start just as people in New York are starting to get ready for sleep; it puts you in the position of staying up and regretting it the next morning, or petering out after a few innings, then waking up the next morning with no idea how things turned out.

Sometimes, the late starts mean you forget about baseball altogether. Since the West Coast scores don't make the early edition of the paper, you can go all the way until powering up the computer at work before seeing that, say, the Angels have beaten the Yanks, 6-5. And just like that, the Yanks have dropped three out of the four games since their five-game sweep of Boston.

This is why we have a no-gloating rule. The what, you say? The no-gloating rule. It's simple--you don't count a game as being won in the sixth inning, you don't call a no-hitter in the eighth inning, and you don't, under any circumstances, count a division rival as dead in August, when they're only single digits out of first place, and still pretty close for the Wild Card...

Locally, some people, have forgotten the no-gloating rule. They like big declarations, and fail to remember the big lesson that Yogi taught us: something about it not being over until it's over.

The Bostons haven't capitalized on the Yanks' stumble, taking two out of three from the Angels, but dropping their first of three against the Mariners. Still, if the Yanks don't get over the fatigue of playing nineteen games in eighteen days, they stand the very real risk of giving back as many as three of the games they gained on the Sox last weekend.

A few notes:
  • There must be something in the water in Toronto, that drives the managers mad. A few years ago, Tim Johnson got the crazy idea that what would motivate the team was to fabricate stories about his time non-existent time in Viet Nam. Now, John Gibbons gets into a fight with former Yankee Ted Lilly, only a few weeks after challenging Shea Hillebrand to some good old fisticuffs. You have to be an insane genius-type manager to brawl with your players and think you'll continue to be employed. Gibbons is no Billy Martin.
  • Carl Pavano got through six innings for the Clippers. Supposedly he's actually throwing 90 or 91 MPH. Be still my beating heart...
  • I'm usually all for anything that puts it to Boston fans, but this article is just plain stupid (link courtesy of Baseball Primer). What's Ryan doing writing about baseball anyway? Shouldn't he be busy trying to smack Jason Kidd's wife, instead? Isn't that what being a fan is all about, for him?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Week in Review: Suspension of Disbelief

Did that really happen?

I'm serious. Did the Yanks actually take all five games against the Red Sox, at Fenway? After a week in which they had serious trouble putting the Orioles away?

We'll get back to this in a moment. Here's the Week in Review:

Record for the Week: 6-2 (45 RA, 64 RS)
Overall: 74-48, 1st place, 5.5 games ahead of the Red Sox

Player of the Week: Johnny Damon hit .390/.405/.878, with 4 homers, 12 RBI, and 10 extra base hits. By Friday, he was already the player of the week. Not that he didn't have competition, installed as the #3 batter, Bobby Abreu had a .483/.615/.621 week. I repeat: he was on base 61% of the time, over eight games. Jason Giambi hit .318/.514/.727, heavily weighted by the 2 homers he hit in last night's game. Honorable Mentions to Jorge Posada (.308/.379/.654) and Melky Cabrera (.419/.486/.516); the week also featured strong bullpen work by Scott Proctor (7 scoreless IP) and Mariano Rivera (1 run in 5 IP).

Dregs of the Week: Not much, this time out. Craig Wilson hit .222/.300/.222 in limited playing time (18 AB) but that's hardly fatal. Closer to poisonous was Sidney Ponson's swan song in pinstripes (7 runs in 3 IP), which earned him a DFA. He's the dregs. Dishonorable mention goes to Octavio Dotel, still looking hurt and giving up 3 runs in 1 inning of work. Ron Villone is showing some signs of overwork (he leads the Yanks in relief innings and appearances since the All-Star Break). He allowed 6 runs in 6 IP on the week.

Story of the Week: Let's put this in context. The Yanks have been playing baseball for two weeks without a day off, and still have another six days to go--a West Coast trip, no less--before they get a day of rest. Coming into Fenway, the stretch wasn't going well at all--dropped two out of three in Chicago, split four with the Angels and lost two out of three against the Orioles at home. The crucible moment of the August marathon was going to be the five-game set at Fenway--a bullpen-weary team having to play five games in four days against their archrivals at their house, with the AL East lead slipping away.

Forget the Red Sox, it looked like the Yanks were going down by force of attrition, alone.

But then it all turned around. The series opener was a blowout. The nightcap of the doubleheader was a tough, grind-it-out ugly win. Then the Red Sox were in Saturday's game for five innings, the game tied at five. Then in the sixth inning, starter Josh Beckett--the Yankee-Slayer--spit the bit, and the Yanks put up a five-spot, won the game going away. Sunday night, the Yankee offense finally seemed spent, and the Red Sox led 5-3 after seven innings. The only Yankee runs came on a three-run jack by Giambi.

I won't go too far into it--the game is my Game of the Week for Prospectus--but the Red Sox decided not to extend their closer for six outs. They were worried about Monday's game, when they might need Jon Papelbon. As the saying goes--win today; tomorrow, it might rain. The Red Sox wound up extending their closer anyway, and losing, 8-5, in extra innings.

Now, today (the game doesn't count as last week, for the sake of consistency, but it sure is part of the story here) the Yankees come up on top of a squeaker, a pitching duel, 2-1. And now the Sox are six and a half games back, and pretty far behind the Wild Card leaders, too.

It's important not to get too excited. The Bombers have left the Bostons for dead, before, as you'll recall. But a five game sweep is never bad news. Not if you're the one with the broom, anyway.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

A Hard Day's Night

It's never easy, is it?

The Yanks crushed the Red Sox in the opener of their five-game series, 12-4. That game started at 1:00, featuring Chien Ming Wang getting off his streak of bad performances to beat the inimitable Jason Johnson.

Almost twelve hours later, the Yankees were still playing baseball at Fenway. You see, the nightcap of their day/night doubleheader was the longest nine-inning game in major league history, a wild, wild one that the Yankees won, 14-11.

Yuh, that's right. Fourteen to eleven.

The standout for the day was Johnny Damon (6 for 12, 7 RBI on the day), kinda kicking all the "We'd rather have Coco Crisp" folks in Beantown right in the teeth, and Bobby Abreu, who came up huge with the bat, and reminded anyone with a disposition to whine about the Red Sox picking up Javy Lopez and Eric Hinske for a song, that the Yanks played that song first, and played that song better.

On the downside, the Yankee pitching staff is a house of horrors. The Yanks have a couple of Brand X generic righties in the pen right now--TJ Beam, Brian Bruney--and both have seen, and will likely continue to see, meaningful innings this series. The Yanks needed 9 innings of relief yesterday--a nausea-inducing spectacle. Also nasea-inducing was Kyle Farnsworth having to be helped off the field after taking a liner to the leg.

Three more games to go. Randy Johnson could put my head at ease with seven or more good innings today.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Don't Ask/Dotel

Well, this is definitely the way you gear up for a big showing your ass to the Orioles, 12-2. The Orioles aren't a good team, but the Yanks managed to lose two out of three to them, and not avoid the sweep by too much, either. I caught a few minutes of the game at lunch, when the score was 2-1 Yanks. After that, the Mets fans in the joint turned all the TVs in the joint on to the Flushing Crew, which unbeknownst to me was a merciful thing to do. Jaret Wright didn't get out of the fourth inning, allowing five runs in three plus. Ron Villone, Joe Torre's new favorite toy, didn't do too well, either.

In the sixth inning...remember when I said to look out for how Dotel feels today? The good news is that he felt well enough to pitch. The bad news is that regardless of how he felt, he probably shouldn't have been pitching anyway. Again, he couldn't complete the inning, this time he allowed three runs on three hits and an error. Oh, joy.

I've said it before, but you can't trust any of the Yanks injured personnel--not Dotel, now off the DL, not Carl Pavano, with his four scoreless innings in the Florida State League, not Matsui or Sheffield--to contribute this year. You just can't be sure that any of them are healthy enough to contribute. Dotel's last two appearances should count as rehab--just he spent the time rehabbing at the Major League level, with the Yanks holding a 3 game division lead.

That's no time to ask a pitcher to see if he's got what it takes to get out Major League hitters.

Some notes I'm red-faced to have missed yesterday, which were brought to my attention by Brother T:

Bruno Kirby passed away this week, of leukemia. For some people, remembering Bruno Kirby will have something to do with the City Slickers movies, which were not even the best Billy Crystal vehicle he got to participate in. Kirby was awesome in When Harry Met Sally (one of the world's most tolerable chick flicks) and he had the role of a young Clemenza in Godfather Part II, possibly the best movie, ever. He was a wonderful character actor, and now gone from the world much too young. Our condolences go out to his family.

Yesterday, the Yankees broke ground on their new Stadium. It was a black-armband day in the deMause household, not quite disastrous, but mildly maudlin, for me. While spending taxpayer dollars on a facility for the wealthiest team in baseball sounds...silly, I'm pretty cynical on the expenditure of taxpayer dollars. We see the dollars that go into this Stadium--sometimes "dollars" that go into it by benefit of not being collected as taxes--as a zero sum game, taking directly away from education or some other vital services. I tend to think that the powers that be are willing to scrape up some cash for extravagances like these--Stadia, buildings that can bear their names, etc.--that they wouldn't be able to generate to do anything so mundane as put music programs back in schools, hire a few more cops, and whatnot. Somehow, that keeps me from getting out of my mind upset about this.

Still, even though I'm not contemplating acts of rebellion against the state over this, I am somewhat bummed. The 1970's refurb of Yankee Stadium has been my baseball home for my entire life. It's a special place, which is something I remember every single time I step into the ballpark. It's beautiful, it has history, and it still works well enough to draw the biggest crowd of fans in the majors. I know it has flaws, and things which could be modernized, etc., but I don't believe that a new Yankee Stadium will do much for the two areas where I'd most rather see improvement: the New Yankee Stadium won't be cheaper or less corporate, and it won't be a more intimate ballpark, where the fans are closer to the action. So all we're talking about is bells and whistles, maybe a touch better food or slightly more comfortable seats. Not much to get excited about.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Mid-Week Mashup

Nice win on Tuesday night. I felt frustrated for Moose, who pitched well, was screwed over for the umpteenth time this season by an Alex Rodriguez bobble, and got a n0-decision for his aggravation. He seemed genuinely pissed off when Torre came to get him after he walked the leadoff man in the eighth inning. One of the upsides of the lineup being so stacked is that they tend to score even when the offense isn't having a good night, which is the way it worked against the Orioles on Tuesday. Johnny Damon was raking (although his "triple" was another data point in favor of eliminating the error as a stat) and Robbie Cano provided a clutch double to open 'er up. A few notes:

  • Tuesday's game was the rare game I got to catch on WOR (Channel 9 in the NYC area), the local broadcast channel that used to host UPN. Now that UPN and the WB have merged to form an abomination called the CW (they're running one of the absolute worst ad campaigns I've ever seen on busses in Long Island. All closeup photos of the leads of the networks' series, seemingly all staring at the camera with their mouths open. Not an attractive look, ugly green motif to the ads, even an ugly font.
The funny part is that since the two networks--which used to be carried on Ch. 9 and Ch.11--will both be on only one spot on the TV "dial" WOR now has to go back to being a non-network station. Apparently, this involves a move into softcore porn. So WOR had cast members of their new Skinemax series--er, I mean dramas--Desire and Fashion House at Tuesday's game. Unintentional comedy gold as they kept on cutting to these actors, carefully "dressed down" for the ballgame, whose reactions ranged from "How long is this damn game, anyway?" to "They gave me this Yankee cap but it's going to mess up my hair!"

Welcome to show business, I guess. Also fun was when they showed a clip of the cast members being introduced to Derek Jeter during BP. Jeets looked over the two busty actresses from the delegation with all the intensity of a gourmand at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
  • Back to the game. I have to make an admission: I've been in denial about the Boogie Nights moustache Jason Giambi's growing. Easy to do, I guess, since his facial hair's about three shades lighter than the mop atop his head. It looked like his upper lip had somehow gotten a bit dirty. Still, this is a facial hair disaster in the making. I sense Sal Fasano's hand in this...
  • You'll notice I'm mum on tonight's game. Well, I haven't really gotten to see it, yet, but it figures. Adam Loewen's a rookie, and it seems like the key to beating the Yanks in '06 is starting rookies against them. The quality of the rookies in question seems to have little to do with their success. Once rosters expand in September, I fully expect the Yanks' opponents to be starting full squads of guys out of AA rest of the season.
  • With the Red Sox coming back to beat the Tigers tonight, the division lead stands at an incredibly vulnerable two games. The Yanks can tack on another half game to that lead if they beat Rodrigo Lopez tomorrow afternoon. The Bostons are idle, preparing for their five-game Fenway showdown--yep, that's a Friday Day/Night doubleheader, plus individual games Saturday through Monday.
  • Bill Simmons has prepared for the weekend's showdown by trying to reverse-jinx the Yankees with praise in his latest column. Nice try, I guess, just not as powerful a reverse jinx as publicly giving up your team for dead or leaving a playoff game early the year they won the World Series. The whole column is a testament to the power of fantasy leagues, since Simmons probably wouldn't know enough about baseball--beyond the Sox and a little bit of the Yankees--to write about the rest of the American League otherwise. Note that whenever he talks about the state of baseball, he restricts himself to the American League, since he's in an AL-only fantasy league. NL? Doesn't exist. Beneath notice. But get the guy a team in an NL-only 5x5 keepers league, and I'm sure he'd get some opinions about the Senior Circuit right quick, above and beyond "Barry Bonds should be in jail."
  • Yeah, I get catty when someone tries to jinx my team. I like Simmons, he's one of my featured links to the right. But if the Red Sox go four of five (or even three of five) this weekend, he's gonna be insufferable. If the Yanks win four of five, he'll say "See? I told you it wasn't the Sox' year!"
  • Strange, and I think semi-unintentional, bit of point-counterpoint in the New York Times Sports Page today. Stacked one on top of the other, Murray Chass and Selena Roberts took extremely divergent points-of-view on the Paul LoDuca/Gambling story. Chass was spouting the Mets' (and MLB's) company line, unfiltered:
Major League Baseball, a baseball official said yesterday, has no problems with Lo Duca and what has been reported to be his gambling habits. An incident last year was thoroughly investigated, the official said, and was found to have no basis for concern. In addition, baseball has no concern about another reported incident this year.

“He’s not guilty of anything,” said the official, who was granted anonymity because Major League Baseball does not generally comment on investigations.

A little more defensively, Chass goes on to say:
Baseball does not take reports of gambling lightly. Pete Rose didn’t happen so long ago that baseball officials have forgotten. They hear “gambling” and look reflexively into possible betting on baseball.

When security people investigated Lo Duca’s alleged offshore debt, they didn’t end their probe there. They asked pertinent questions. “There have been a lot of conversations, then and now,” the baseball official said.

Stop the presses! "Pertinent questions" were asked! No need to look into this further, I guess. Except, Chass's colleague Selena Roberts seems to disagree, in an article aptly titled "Truth Stays Hidden If Nobody Looks For It" (sadly, behind the Times Select curtain). This bit seems like a direct slam at Chass's recital of the company line:

Major League Baseball has cleared Lo Duca; the Mets have done their self-check as well. Everyone is at ease with the situation, and so is Lo Duca.

"The Mets said it for me," Lo Duca said last week. "I don't need to say nothing else."

All is well, right? So why fret over Lo Duca? Why probe for details?

Because teams and leagues have no credibility as sleuths. Because teams and leagues are culprits of learned ignorance. The incurious make lousy detectives.
  • In other sports journalism news, a federal judge has decided to uphold the subpoenas issued against Game of Shadows authors Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, with the purpose of making them divulge the sources of grand jury leaks they reported in that book and in the SF Chronicle. As you may recall, when the subpoenas were issued, the reporters' argument against being forced to comply were basically a) sure, it grand jury testimony is a secret, but it's not an important secret, and b) look at all the good the reporting did, pointing at the congressional steroid investigation, MLB re-opening its CBA to get a new steroid agreement, et cetera. Guess that didn't wash.
  • My question is, who plays Fainaru-Wada in the inevitable film version of this tale? I'm guessing either Ed Norton or Brent Spiner.
  • Octavio Dotel joined the team today, and got into tonight's game, allowing a hit and a walk in the eighth inning before giving way to Scott Proctor. Let's see how he feels tomorrow before we start penciling him into the Yanks' plans, shall we?
  • This week, my Game of the Week for Baseball Prospectus was Sunday night's pitchers duel between Greg Maddux and Jason Schmidt. Here's a taste, with my take on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball's color commentator, the one and only Joe Morgan:
But since we have a game announced by Joe Morgan--a controversial figure in sabermetric circles--there are a couple of moments in the bottom of the eighth which bear mentioning. After Maddux leaves the game for pinch-hitter James Loney, Morgan goes on a rant about why this is a good idea--it's a confusing flurry of verbiage about how Maddux wasn't brought in to be the Dodgers' "horse," he used to be a horse but he isn't a horse anymore, and you wouldn't want him thinking that you want him to be a horse when that's someone else's job, and Jason Schmidt, now he is the Giants' horse, so that's different…

Huh? Maddux threw 68 pitches. Morgan knows this, if he's been listening to his announcing partner, Jon Miller, who has mentioned Maddux's low pitch count repeatedly. Where does that fit in with all of Morgan's equine metaphors? Does asking a guy to pitch the ninth inning, even if he hasn't yet thrown 70 pitches, makes him a horse?

Still, it's easy to nitpick, and hard to speak extemporaneously on live television for hours on end. A few moments later, Morgan shows us the other side of the coin. Furcal singles on a hard bunt toward Vizquel. With the speedy shortstop on first and one out, Kenny Lofton comes up and shows bunt, but pulls it back. Miller comments that this is a strange situation for Lofton to be showing bunt, but Morgan points out that showing and pulling back the bunt serves a purpose--it helps the baserunner by preventing the catcher from getting forward momentum to throw.

Now, that's not a mind-blowing revelation, but it is a nice detail to keep in mind when you see someone square up in a non-bunt situation. That, and the occasional funny anecdote, is really all that we ask from a color announcer. When Morgan's not ranting about statistics or "that book that Billy Beane wrote," he's able to put a couple little nuggets like that out there per game.

More on Friday, I guess.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Week in Review: Solo Homer Sundays

La Chiquita and I got out to the House that Ruth Built for Sunday's game. The weather was amazing, clear and sunny. Perfect baseball weather. A shame the Yanks did not give us a performance to match the weather.

The primary blame for the loss goes to Chien Ming Wang. Wang, who'd been incredible at the stadium since late April (9-0, 1.84 ERA since April 22), had the Yanks in a 3-0 hole before we even got through Stadium security. Chone Figgins homered leading off the game, and five singles followed. A couple more runs came in as Wang couldn't even provide the Yanks innings, washing out in the sixth, having allowed 5 runs.

It was just too much run support to give Angels rookie Jered Weaver. Weaver came into Yankee Stadium 7-0, and pretty much dominated the Yanks through six, allowing only a solo homer--Craig Wilson's first in pinstripes--in his time on the mound. The irony of a Weaver once again undoing the Yankees was not lost on us.

In the bottom of the ninth with two out, the Yanks had a spurt of too-little-too-late offense, when A-Rod and Giambi went back-to-back to make the game 5-3. Posada was unable to keep the string going, cue Liza Minelli.

Side note: Toward the end of the game--after the seventh inning, fair weather fans started streaming for the exits--la Chiquita and I got tired of our seats in the unrelenting sun of the left field boxes, and so we moved a little bit down the line to get into the shade. We wound up sitting near two fans who were there with their son, a toddler stripped down to his disposable diaper. Both fans were wearing jerseys, and it took me a minute ID the woman's jersey as a Braves away uni, and the man's top as an Expos home jersey, with Curtis Pride's name and number on the back.

I couldn't quite piece together what an Expos fan and Braves fan were doing together, until I saw the couple begin signing to each other. I finally got to see the woman's back, and needless to say, she was also wearing a Curtis Pride jersey. I'd forgotten that Pride ever played for Atlanta.

For those of you who don't remember, Curtis Pride, now the Angels' left fielder, is deaf, with 85% hearing loss. As the seats emptied out in the ninth inning, the couple exchanged a flurry of sign language with each other, and brought their son down to the front row of field level, as close as they could get to Curtis Pride. So that their kid could see him.

Baseball has something for everybody.

Week in Review

Record on the Week: 2-4, 31 RA, 28 RS
Overall: 68-46, 1 game ahead of the Red Sox

Player of the Week: The Post was wondering why Alex Rodriguez thought he had a good week, despite his defensive problems, perceived lack of clutchiness, and problems getting booed at Yankee Stadium. Well, he hit .455/.538/.955 on the week, with three homers and two doubles on the week. His five runs scored and five RBIs each led the team. Robbie Cano got the runner up thing going with a .409/.409/.864 week, with two homers, and Jason Giambi had a 1.000 OPS on the strength of his two homers. On the pitching side of the ledger, Randy Johnson got the Yanks only true quality start of the week, and Ron Villone pitched 6.7 scoreless innings of relief.

Dregs of the Week: Not a lot of good candidates on offense. Derek Jeter's batting average was ugly, but he gets by by getting on base at a near 36% clip (.217/.357/.217). Chien Ming Wang was pretty bad in his two starts (7.84 ERA in 10.3 IP) and Sid Ponson messed up his one long relief appearance, ensuring that his next one will be hard to come by. But really, the Dregs performance this week came from Jorge Posada. Despite some nice work on defense--Jorge's throwing out runners better than ever this year--the man's offense was rank this week, as he didn't get on base a single time, and struck out about 1/3 of the times he came to the plate.

Story of the Week: We'll take a pass, this week.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Rant & Link

The way the Yanks lost two of three in Chicago--all three games were one-run squeakers, and the Bombers should have been able to win at least one of the two games they lost--is only ameliorated by the fact that the Red Sox got swept by the [insert diminutive phrase here: hapless? lowly? hopeless?] Kansas City Royals. The Yankees' lead over the Sox stands at 3 games, which may be the biggest lead they've had all season.

The Yanks developed a number of compelling storylines in Chicago. We had Cano's triumphant return on Tuesday, albeit in a losing cause; Mariano blowing a save by allowing a big home run to Paul Konerko; Randy Johnson's six and two-thirds no-hit innings on Wednesday; Farnsworth's meltdown that made that game a nail-biter; A-Rod's error on Thursday that opened up the floodgates against Mike Mussina (that storyline seems familiar); Johnny Damon's "stiff right groin"--which would be funny if it didn't point out a weakness on the Yankee roster.

So the Angels come into town, three games over .500 and 3.5 games behind the A's, in second place. Since the Red Sox are still playing crappy teams, the Yanks need to keep up the pressure. The Halos will go with Joe Saunders, Kelvim Escobar, and unbeaten rookie Jered Weaver against Corey Lidle, Jaret Wright, and Chien Ming Wang.

After taking August off, I've done a couple of Game of the Week pieces for Baseball Prospectus, covering the National League. The first one was a battle of the NL Central, with the Milwaukee Brewers facing the the Cincinnati Reds, Ben Sheets facing the underrated Aaron Harang. Good, close game, but I was a bit distracted by side issues:
Now, since we’re in Milwaukee, and it’s the top of the seventh, sausages are racing. It looks like Hot Dog and Bratwurst in the lead, absolutely dusting the Polish and Italian Sausages. We’re looking for the spicy new pan-Latino sausage, Chorizo, who’s either a huge slowpoke, or not even in tonight’s race, fired before his second day on the job. Maybe they found too much testosterone in Chorizo’s urine sample after he raced Saturday night. This would be a dark day in the history of sausage racing, indeed, if we’re all waiting for the results of El Picante’s B sample before he can race again.
During the seventh inning stretch, an Internet search reveals that Chorizo, despite making his major league debut on Saturday night, is ineligible for any further sausage races this season, not because of performance enhancers, but because of the “major league rules regarding the introduction of mascots.” Because of MLB’s stringent vetting process for all new mascots, Saturday’s Hispanic Appreciation Night performance was a one-shot deal for Chorizo, at least for this season.

I’m sure that the rules are only meant to encourage competitive balance, and keep the Yankees from dominating the mascot market. Still, how can it take until next season to get a new sausage approved? I sense a cause coming on: Joe Sheehan had Free Erubiel Durazo, Aaron Gleeman had Free Johan Santana, and now we here at Game of the Week have Free El Picante, the Racing Chorizo. Feel free to email the Brewers, the Commissioner of Baseball, or your local congressman, for that matter, with that subject line.

The other piece was a look at the Mets as they run away with their division, facing the not-as-horrible-as-we -were led to believe Marlins. Another pitcher's duel, Pedro facing the D-Train, Dontrelle Willis. I'd touted Dontrelle staying in Miami in a recent Notebook column, so I was really nervous that during the week between that article and the trade deadline, the Marlins would find a way to trade away their star lefty and make a fool of me. Luckily, the D-Train stuck around, and pitched a nice game against the Mets, one the Marlins eventually won with a big inning against Aaron Heilman.

Speaking of the Marlins and Mets, one storyline that I prepared writing about, but didn't, was the confrontation between two ex-Yankee coaches, Willie Randolph and Joe Girardi. One of the ideas I wanted to discuss was that the two could wind up fighting for the Manager of the Year award, Willie as the skipper of the best team in the NL, Girardi as the manager who has managed to field a competitive team comprised primarily of rookies and inexpensive players, with the lowest payroll in the majors.

One of the ideas I wanted to discuss was the thought that Joe could overcome Willie in such an award faceoff, based upon the two managers' media relations skills and public perceptions. Girardi was inordinately touted as a managerial candidate, before his playing career even ended. Contrast that with Randolph, who waited years as managerial position after position passed him by--to the point where people wondered what was wrong with him--until he found his current job with the Mets. While Girardi seems to remain in the press's good graces, Willie is often regarded as "angry" or "sullen." It's a shame that somoene who used to have so much fun with the game--my memories of Randolph's Yankees career often had him smiling and joking with his teammates--now only seems to smile in those Subway commercials he does with his former boss, Joe Torre.

Luckily, I didn't write about Girardi's Manager of the Year chances, since a) the Marlins could still go in the tank this season, and b) Girardi might not end the season as the team's manager. Turns out, he actually was fired last Sunday, only for Marlins owner, Jeff "Angel of Death" Loria, to retract the termination at the last minute.

Which raises the question, can you be manager of the year if your ballclub fires you before the end of the season?


One last thing to belabor with the Marlins and Mets. One of the players that changed hands between the two teams last off-season, Mr. Heart & Soul, Paul LoDuca, suffered a double tabloid whammy this week, as his divorce and infidelities dominated the front page of the New York Post (seriously, it took the British terrorist plot to kick LoDuca and his really hot wife off the front page). Then, the Daily News lit into LoDuca's rumored gambling debts. Ouch.

Bad news for phenoms, current and former. Prior's start on Thursday was brutal, he simply had nothing. Liriano's a good enough prospect that I actually thought how horrible his injury is for baseball as a whole before it occurred to me that his injury was devastating for mine and Brother J's roto team. I'm sure we'll survive, though I can't say the same for the Twins.

Good Yankee material around the net this week, as Jonah Keri analyzed bad trades from the Yankees' past on the YES Network website, and swing doctor Jeff Albert broke down Alex Rodriguez's swing (and Andruw Jones's) for the Baseball Analysts website.

Crime and Punishment in the Bronx, as 2006 13th round pick Daniel McCutchen has been suspended 50 games for using performance enhancers, and the Upper Deck Jumper receives a lifetime suspension from the House That Ruth Built, and its succesor(s).

In real legal news, MLB lost a case which could cost them their stranglehold on Fantasy Baseball products, as a Federal Judge ruled that the MLBPA ballplayers' publicity rights do not cover their baseball statistics--in other words, that those stats are facts and their expression is protected by the first amendment.

I love McSweeney's, so this "explanation" of the league's waiver rules really opened my eyes.

Under the category of unintentional comedy, there is Michael Kay going nuts on the radio.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Week In Review: You Gellin'?

Record for the Week: 5-1, 14 RA, 31 RS
Overall: 66-42, 1st place, 2 games ahead of Boston

Player of the Week: Jason Giambi, who hit .462/.632/1.077 on the week, in five games. The Giambino had two homers and six RBI n the week, the most RBI on the team. Honorable mentions go to Chien Ming Wang, with his eight innings of shutout ball, Melky Cabrera, who hit ,350/.458/.550 Jorge Posada, who hit .400/.438/.800 in four games last week, Jaret Wright, who won two games last week with a 1.64 ERA, and newcomer Bobby Abreu, who hit 400/.464/.520 in his first week as a Yank. It's all good.

Dregs of the Week: Hard to pick on anybody, but since you insist, we'll try. Nick Green went 1-11 last week, a shame given that he'll be picking up some of Miguel Cairo's playing time, now that Cairo hits the DL. Bernie Williams, in limited playing time, didn't make a good argument for a larger role, .167/.231/.250. Johnny Damon won a game with power last week, but his two homers were the limit of his contribution, as shown in his .185/.214/.407. Alex Rodriguez got on base more, but his contribution was also very limited, .240/.321/.320. Ouch. Among the pitchers, the only one who really had a bad week was Ron Villone (7.20 ERA in 4 appearances). Nice work, there.

Story of the Week: Pretty much, the Yankees look right now like they have the team they will take to September and hopefully beyond. Robinson Cano comes off the DL on Tuesday, which should give us an idea of Joe Torre's lineup options for the rest of the season. At this point, we have to write off Carl Pavano and Octavio Dotel as vaporware, constantly promised and never delivered. Even if Dotel manages to pitch two consecutive weeks without having to be shut down, or if Pavano ever advances beyond batting practice (perhaps to challenge Mark Prior for the simulated game Cy Young!) neither man will be dependable enough to rely on going forward. There just doesn't seem to be enough left time for them to finish their rehabs and get the team's confidence.

Since this looks like the unit we go to war with, it's time for them to gel. The early returns are comforting in that regard. The offense clicked against the Jays and Orioles, and it looks like the Blue Jays may have finally said "uncle" after dropping 9.5 games back in the division after taking a major pounding from the Yanks and White Sox. The emergence of Chien Ming Wang and re-emergence of Jaret Wright, albeit in a five-inning incarnation, have taken the pressure off the incredible disappointment that is Randy Johnson. Hopefully, Cory Lidle can step up to make the rotation behind Johnson and Mike Mussina rock-solid, every man 1-5 a threat. Sure, going into the playoffs I'd prefer to have a single stud like Johan Santana or Roy Halladay over a couple of "solid" guys at the back of the rotation, but you play the hand you're dealt. Time to ante up.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Saturday Afternoons with Moose

As we write, Mike Mussina is going for his 14th win against the Orioles, in Baltimore, where Mike started his career. We've had a lot of glowing praise for the Moose this season--warming up to him more than we have in his first five seasons in pinstripes. Mussina's a pitcher of ticks and repetitions--the way he holds the glove close to his body, or the bow that he does when he pitches from the stretch (which seems to really annoy some people for no good reason).

One that I'd never given much thought to is the hop that he does at the end of each delivery--after each pitch he teeters on his left (landing) leg for a moment, then does a little hop into a squat which puts him in position to field grounders. Now I'm all tripped out by The Hop, since it seems to be the one thing in Mussina's delivery that's totally irregular--sometimes Mussina bounces into a close-legged crouch on the first base side, other times spread-legged or with one leg flopping toward third base. Is it the pitch that determines the hop? Does he change it for lefty batters or righty batters. Is it just random? I gotta know!

The team as a whole has been on quite a roll, winning it's last five, going back to last Sunday, and including a mid-week sweep of Toronto and capturing last night's series opener against the O's. Randy Johnson wasn't terribly impressive last night, four runs and nine hits in six innings, with no strikeouts or walks. Still, the Yankees were able to take the game in the late innings, thanks to Jorge Posada's dinger off Oriole closer Chris Ray.

Earlier in the day, the Yanks bid fare-well to Bubba Crosby, as they added reliever Jose Veras to the roster. Much as we like Bubba, with the acquisitions of Abreu and Wilson, this move was coming. Bubba's been designated for assignment, which means that the Yankees have 10 days to trade him, then he passes through waivers, and if he passes through, the Yanks can assign him to the minors--an assignment Crosby could accept or reject. So there is still a pretty decent chance that Bubba remains in the organization, since I don't see where there is a lot of demand for him elsewhere.

In other news, Carl Pavano is throwing BP. Oh, goody, I guess. It's August, Pavano's been gone for more than a year, and the big thing is that he's throwing batting practice?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

July in Review: Movin' on Up

Watched Bobby Abreu's debut last night. Three questions:

1) Why is his glove pink? Is it a leftover from the Mother's Day breast cancer awareness promotion?

2) How long did it take the haters to show up? I'm not even talking about at the Stadium--though it was funny that during his first at bat folks were still busy booing Alex Rodriguez's strikeout--but suddenly we're getting all these "We'd rather have Sheffield than Abreu" stories. It'd be nice if these guys spoke up prior to the trade.

3) Sheff at first? I have to admit I admire the attitude, even if I doubt it'll come off. I'm happy with the Abreu acquisition, but that doesn't reflect on my feelings for Sheffield--just my doubts about what he'll be able to give the team, post-wrist injury.

With that out of the way, your July Awards:

Record for July
: 16-9 (137 RA, 145 RS)

Player of the Month: Derek Jeter (.412/.431/.569, team leading 19 RBI & 6 SB). Runners-up: Chien Ming Wang (4-1, 3.03 ERA, averaging over 7 innings per start); Kyle Farnsworth (1 run, 11 Ks in 10.3 IP); Johnny Damon (.329/.392/.500 in 20 games); Melky (.313/.358/.475, team-leading 19 runs scored); and (huge asterisk) Alex Rodriguez (.295/.374/.526, 6 HR, 19 RBI--to go with 5 errors and 27 Ks).

Dregs of the Month: Three-way tie -- Andy Phillips (.165/.208/.275 in 25 games); Miguel Cairo (.253/.256/.320 in 23 games); and Bubba Crosby (.152/.176/.273 in 33 AB spread out over 20 games) each blew chances given a void to fill. Runners-up: When we talk about the Yankees' pitching in July, it's easy to pick on Sidney Ponson (10.00 ERA) Shawn Chacon (13.50 ERA) TJ Beam (15.63 ERA) and Kris Wilson (8.64). Aside from Chacon, not much was expected from them. More disappointing are Mike Myers (9.64), Jaret Wright (6.43) and Randy Johnson (5.68).