Sunday, September 09, 2007

Week in Review: Yankees [Heart] the Heartland

Week 23: September 3-9, 2007

Record for the Week: 5-1, 43 RS, 22 RA
Overall: 81-62, Wild Card leader, 4 games ahead of Detroit; 5.5 games behind Red Sox

Breakdown:
I like the abbreviated comments from last week, so here goes again--

9/3 -- Seattle 7, Yankees 1
After the pathetic showing against Tampa Bay, this loss was one of those panic moments in a season that's been full of them. King Felix and the M's got the Wild Card lead down to 1, Roger Clemens felt a "grabbing" in his elbow. That'll play tricks with your blood pressure.

9/4 -- Seattle 3, Yankees 12
Chien Ming Wang on the mound, three Yankees with four hits each, including Jorge Posada with two solo homers and four runs scored, and Bobby Abreu, who also homered. A day after Clemens goes down with a bad elbow, Vizcaino admits to shoulder soreness.

9/5 -- Seattle 2, Yankees 10
The MVP-elect goes and homers twice in one inning, breaking his own record by most homers by a righthanded-hitting Yankee. Breathing room? Much, much better.

9/6 -- Yankees rest, in honor of my Brother T's birthday.

9/7 -- Yankees 3, Kansas City 2
We covered this already in the Joba's Dad entry on Friday night.

9/8 -- Yankees 11, Kansas City 5
Wasn't watching, dinner with family. More homers for A-Rod.

9/9 -- Yankees 6, Kansas City 3
Chien Ming Wang takes Clemens' start on full rest, Alex's 52nd homer in the first inning gives the Yanks a 2-0 lead in the first, after the Royals tie it in the fourth, he scores the go-ahead run in front of Jorge Posada double in the fifth. Do I even need to write the Player of the Week section?

Player of the Week: Do I need to say it? He hit six homers for the week, led the team in runs scored (7) and RBI (9), his rate stats were a mind-bending .524/.615/1.381. Even stole a couple of bases. Oh, and he's relentlessly mocked for stretching out his shoulder.

In the non-Alex Rodriguez division, Chien Ming Wang was the anchor of the pitching staff, allowing only 4 runs in 14 1/3 innings last week, working his way to 18 wins for the season. Jorge Posada was nearly as radioactive hot as Rodriguez, with three homers and a .474/.583/.947 week that would have been a winner any other week. Bobby Abreu hit .417/.417/.875, and a trio of Yankee relievers--Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, and Kyle Farnsworth--each pitched three scoreless for the week.

Dregs of the Week: On offense, the team alternated hot and cold. Chilliest of the chill with the bat was Hideki Matsui who went a horrifying 1 for 17 on the week (.059/.238/.059). The Captain's banged up, taking a hard HBP in Kansas City Friday night, and working with a sore right knee he injured almost three weeks ago. Jeter hit .167/.231/.208. Jason Giambi and Shelley Duncan, feeling the playing time squeeze, combined for a 1 for 16 this week. Duncan had the one hit (an RBI single) in 8 AB, Giambi went .000/.273/.000 in 11 PA. Roger Clemens took the Yanks' one loss of the week, getting slagged for 5 runs in 4 innings pitched before leaving with his injury.

Link of the Week: Don't usually do links in the Week in Review, but this one caught my eye as borderline bulletin board material. It's Kevin Youkilis talking to Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe, with the headline "Youkilis Tries to Target Cause of Yankees' Ire" (hat tip to Repoz at Baseball Think Factory). When it's suggested that he might be considered a whiner, he says:

"They play 'Yankeeography' on Paul O'Neill every day," Youkilis said, referring to the Yankees' practice of showing highlight films on the stadium scoreboard of Paul O'Neill, a beloved former Yankee known for his dramatic mood swings. "So, what's the problem? I've been compared to Paul O'Neill. I know Paul O'Neill. We have the same agent [Joe Bick].

"People find things to hate about everyone. They're not going to like somebody for this reason or that. What are you going to do? I go out and play. I'm emotional. Some people say, 'Oh, he shouldn't be like that.' Other people say that's the best thing about you. So who am I supposed to please?

"I'm here to win ballgames. I play with emotion. Some people congratulate me. Some people say, 'Stop whining about this or that.' I can't please everyone. It is what it is. People who don't like you aren't going to like you."

Wow. I finally get to do the Lloyd Benson, here: You, sir, are no Paul O'Neill. O'Neill, for all that he might have yapped at umps and worn his emotions on his sleeve, never got hit by more than four pitches in a season. So regardless of the fact that umps and opposing teams' fans might have considered him a a crybaby, apparently he wasn't ticking off opposing players or pitchers all that much. In his young career, Youkilis has already been hit one more time (23) than Paul O'Neill was in fifteen Major League seasons, 2,053 games. The Mohel of Swat has played in less than one-fifth the games O'Neill did.

Maybe the reason that Youkilis gets hit so darn much is because he crowds the plate. I doubt Don Baylor ever answered questions about why teams "targeted" him. Maybe guys pitch Youkilis high and inside because that's the way to get him out. Maybe Red Sox pitchers throw at the Yankees more often than is usual, and that encourages reprisals. But then again, maybe, just maybe, those two pitches Joba threw were supposed to be strikes under his hands that slipped.

Only one thing's for certain, is that you don't lose a rap as a whiner by whining about it.

Story of the Week: Now that we've gotten that out of our system, the story of the week is the Yanks finally wrapping up their regular season business against the AL West and Central--barring a tiebreaker, the schedule going forward is all Eastern Division. The Yanks finished up 30-11 against the AL Central, accounting for all of their record above .500 . They finished at 15-16 against the AL West, 10-8 against the National League, and are currently one game under .500 against the AL East, 26-27. The remaining schedule breaks down as follows: seven against the Blue Jays, six against the Orioles, three each against the Red Sox and Rays. The path to the end of the regular season also tracks through the visiting ballparks--only 7 of the Yanks' remaining 19 game are at Yankee Stadium. The Yanks road record, like their record against the AL East, is one that could use improvement--they're a game under .500 outside the Bronx. The relief of the gauntlet the Yankees fought through the last couple of weeks made it feel like the end of the season was closer than it is. There's still a lot of important baseball to be played--the Yanks can't jog their way through September like they've done in so many years past, but at least you have to like where they are.

The other story of the week has been the names dribbling out of the latest steroid scandal. It's been scary to watch the storylines around Rick Ankiel turn from fawning to vicious without missing a step. If Ankiel hadn't been brought up to the bigs last month and made a splash with a Shancer Spencer-like splash of power, he'd be just another minor leaguer who tried PEDs in a rush of desperation. If he were still a pitcher, he'd likely get the pass that most pitchers get. But now he seems to be the sportswriter's favorite snack--the great story gone wrong. Great stories are wonderful, but they never last--in order to get more life out of a story like Ankiel's the player must a) kick up his level of performance even higher--hard to do when you've got nine homers in ninety at bats; b) fall completely on his face on the field, fail as spectacularly as he succeeded, or c) fall prey to scandal. We see a similar thing in all of the season's big stories, which brings us back to Alex Rodriguez's big week. Take this, from Bill Madden's Sunday column:
So this scandal goes far beyond Barry Bonds. Jose Canseco casually drops Alex Rodriguez's name and unfortunately it can no longer be dismissed. You want to believe that everything about A-Rod's MVP season is genuine, just as fans in Tampa Bay want to believe in Carlos Pena's out-of-nowhere career year.

Why can it "no longer be dismissed"? Has Canseco followed up on his "you'll have to wait until my next book, I've got something on Alex Rodriguez" hint? I know that after Mark McGwire decided to "not talk about the past" and finger-pointing Raffy Palmeiro tested positive, Canseco was hailed as the soothsayer of our age, but I find the idea that he has anything other than innuendo to spread about Rodriguez highly questionable. Everyone forgets the shifty way Canseco changed his own stance on steroids, from practically arguing that they should be pumped into the drinking water in his book, to turning into Mr. Mackey in front of Congress ("Drugs are bad, mmmkay?"). The only source of credibility that Canseco had is that he was in major league clubhouses, with the access to see things first-hand, and hear "inside information." I'd fairly bet he's persona non grata in those clubhouses now, so what new information could he possibly have? If he knew something about Alex from back when he had access, why wasn't it in his first book?

I'm not a wide-eyed innocent, here. I know that in this steroid witch hunt, no one is really above suspicion--that's one of the things that bugs me when people tout player X or player Y as "one of the clean players." How do you know? Could Alex have been a user, at some point in his career? Sure, anything is possible. But I'm utterly disgusted by the way that some writers are licking their chops, looking for the next disgraced ballplayer, and willing to plump up some pretty thin innuendo in their eagerness. After all, Alex Rodriguez hitting 52+ bombs to lead the Yankees to the playoffs is a good story, but A-Rod hitting 52+ bombs and then getting exposed as a steroid cheat? That would be a great story.

Wow, that's an awfully negative ending to a post about a very good week.

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