Monday, September 25, 2006

Week In Review: Playing Out the String


Record for the Week: 3-3 (32 RA, 23 RS)
Overall: 93-62 (Winner, AL East, 10.5 games ahead of Boston)

Player of the Week: Robbie Cano, who should join the batting average leaderboard tonight with enough plate appearances to pro-rate to 501, hit .417/.417/.792 with a couple of dingers and three doubles. Chien Ming Wang pitched seven strong innings en route to his 18th win. Bobby Abreu smacked things up to a .333/.455/.556 tune. Aaron Guiel, trying out for the spare outfielder slot, hit .364/.364/.727 with a homer and a stolen base in limited playing time. Scott Proctor is showing that he's ready for the playoffs with 3.7 scoreless. Quietly, Proctor has a 2.57 ERA since August 1, with 26 strikeouts in 35 innings.

Dregs of the Week: Johnny Damon went 1 for 12 in three games wrapped around a three games off with lacerations on his throwing hand. Jorge Posada (.118/.250/.294) and Melky Cabrera (.158/.238/.211) had weeks to forget, and Alex Rodriguez went 0-12 after being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated (he went .125/.333/.313 overall). In three games after being activated from the DL, Gary Sheffield didn't do much with bat or glove (.125/.222/.125). More on both of those stories, below.

On the pitching side of the ledger, there are three guys we need a nickname for, given how often they wind up on the dregs side of the ledger. Randy Johnson should simply be nicknamed "Six and Five" given how often his linescore reads, six innings, five runs allowed. Octavio Dotel (10.80 ERA in three appearances) still hasn't come back from his surgery, and Ron Villone (54.00 ERA in two appearances) looks like he must be heading for some surgery of his own. Villone is almost certain to make the postseason roster, despite being unable to retire batters, for more than a month. I'm hoping and praying the Jeff Weaver Principle doesn't come into play.

Story of the Week: Last week was a roadie at the Blue Jays and the Devil Rays, with the Yankees clinching on Wednesday despite losing, in Toronto. Two big players made long-awaited appearances this week--Mariano Rivera taking the mound after some time off for a bad elbow, and Gary Sheffield finally returning to the team. On Friday, the Sandman struck out the side against the Devil Rays, and Sheffield made his debut at first base.

The early returns aren't good. The poor batting you see above wasn't a big deal--it's only three games--although, to be perfectly fair, Sheffield's running out of games to show that he's someone you turn to in the postseason. Sheff's defense, however, isn't ready for prime time. He only committed one error during the weekend, but there was some charitable scoring, and Sheff looked stiff around the bag. It's the little things, like getting a feel for when to cut off the throw from right field (Sheffield committed at least one such mistake on Saturday) that make me wish that Sheffield had a month or two to get ready to field the position, rather than just this next week. That's all the season we got left.

So the Yanks clinched, the Sandman and Sheffield returned, and none of that was the story of the week.

Welcome to Planet A-Rod.

By now, everyone's heard the quotes, from Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci, where the Yankee thirdbaseman gets taken to the woodshed by Joe Torre and Jason Giambi. In case you haven't, the basic story of Verducci's article is that it recounts a series of "interventions" to try to get Alex Rodriguez back on track during his mid-season slump--first by hitting coach Don Mattingly, in June, then by Jason Giambi in August, after the big five-game series the Yanks swept in Boston, and then later in the month by Joe Torre in Seattle, while the third baseman was recovering from a bad upper respiratory bug. For good measure

As Tim Marchman pointed out last week, this isn't the way we're used to things being dealt with in the Yankee clubhouse--Joe usually doesn't give writers a blow-by-blow account of his closed door meetings with players, and the Yankee coaches are usually as quiet as churchmice or else as positive as cheerleaders when it comes to the press. Oh, and Torre doesn't often take sides between his players, at least not publicly. Here he came down firmly behind Giambi and against Rodriguez. Verducci may have amped up the background--and I think all this stuff about "Jeter-Doesn't-Stand-Up-For-A-Rod, Therefore-Jeter-Slams-A-Rod" is B.S.--but he didn't make up the quotes. And neither Torre nor Giambi, nor anyone else quoted has backed away from what they said, or claimed to have been taken out of context.

Wow. What we have here is a professional hit. Lots of us forget that this type of savage communication through the press was a hallmark of the Yankees of the 70's and 80's, before Torre claimed control of the Yankee clubhouse and the press corps that went with it. Now, we have a return to the bad old days, and although I have no inside knowledge, I feel safe speculating that George Steinbrenner must have ordered--or at least sanctioned--the Code Red on Private Rodriguez. This reeks of the Boss's mentality, born from football, that the way you motivate players is by challenge and humiliation.

The theory is, Rodriguez will get mad and suddenly he'll play better. Well, or else he'll be revealed to not have guts and moxie and what have you. As you can see above, the early returns suggest that the "motivation" isn't working. We'll see if he can get his head together before the Division Series.

A few notes:

  • The echo chamber on this story is huge. Mike Vaccaro in the NY Post had one of the loudest distortions of the week, adopting the 24 + 1 meme originated by former Mets GM and current ESPN analyst Steve Phillips. In Sunday's Daily News, Bill Madden blames all things A-Rod on his agent, Scott Boras. A few more retellings, and Verducci's article will actually be seen by some columnists as evidence that Rodriguez was responsible for the Kennedy assassination. Both of them.
  • Now, suddenly, Jason Giambi's a team leader? Can we rewind everybody's commentary to December, 2004? Forget that, May, 2005--you know, when everyone was saying that Giambi should go to the minors or retire--would do. Now these same hypocrites are going to tell us that Giambi's the man in the Yankee clubhouse? Everyone see the connection here? "Give newsmen story, get praised as brave leader."
  • By the way, if I recall correctly, Derek Jeter did the same "Leave it alone, no one wants to talk about that" thing when people were asking him about Giambi, back then. Should teach Rodriguez this comforting lesson: every player is 18 months of good baseball--and a few handy quotes to the beat writers--away from being an indispensable member of the team.
  • There was an interesting piece of news in Verducci's article. I had been curious about what Mattingly was doing while Rodriguez's slump deepened. According to Verducci, Mattingly was on top of things, but Rodriguez blew off the instruction. First time I ever heard that A-Rod was difficult to coach.

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